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Chester County Press

Early to bed, too early to rise?

09/16/2014 08:50PM ● By Lev

It's a complaint that every parent has heard in the dim early morning hours, when lunches need to be packed and buses have to be caught: Why do we have to get up so early?

Think about that.

Why do we?

That question was posed by Unionville-Chadds Ford school board member Jeff Hellrung at the board's Sept. 15 meeting, and it was met by thoughtful nods from other board members. “I don't know if it's some sort of agrarian holdover,” Hellrung mused. “As a teacher, though, I can say that students are not as sharp in that first period class." Hellrung said he has taken the morning bus with students, "and they were zombies."

It's a fact that children and teens need more sleep than they're getting, and their internal clocks are naturally shifted to stay up later and get up later. But schools ask children to be standing at the bus stop before the sun rises, and to be ready to learn. The first class at Unionville High School starts at 7:34 a.m. As an adult, do you think you'd do your best work at 7:34 a.m.? Over at Pocopson Elementary, the first class begins at 8:55 a.m., but for some students who ride the bus, that means being at the bus stop at perhaps 7:30 or so.

Do we do this because it's the way we've always done it? Did schools of the 1800s get going at daybreak because most families were already up and milking cows at that hour? If that's the reason, that might need to change.

What would happen if classes started at 9:30 in the morning and continued until later in the afternoon? As Hellrung pointed out, if that happened, students would spend less time in unsupervised homes after school. Parents would return from work only half an hour or an hour after students walked through the front door.

No one is saying that a change like this will happen quickly -- or even if it will happen at all. But exploring the issue does make sense.

Other board members agreed with looking into the question. Board president Victor Dupuis echoed Hellrung's sentiment that schools might need to make some allowances for how our children's bodies function.

Of course, kids will still moan and complain about a 9:30 or 10 a.m. start time, and after-school activities would need to be shifted later. But if students are actually more awake and receptive to school work, wouldn't that be a win for everyone?

There are, of course, many pieces that would need to be shifted by families, teachers and administrators to alter the school schedule, but why shouldn't we at least think about it?


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