Dear Dr. Debbie,
I attended the School Board meeting last week about changing school start times. We have three kids in elementary school, but as long as we’ve lived in Anne Arundel County — 15 years — I expected this to have been fixed by now. The science is unarguable: Students, particularly the older ones, need better sleep. Adolescent brains shift ahead by three-hours from the sleep pattern that served them in elementary school, suggesting that high school start later in the morning, not earlier, than elementary school.
My neighbor has a 6:05 a.m. bus time (that is in the DARK for all but about four weeks of the school year). Ridiculous! Most days he gets a parent to drive him, leaving the house at a slightly more reasonable 7 a.m.
I understand that moving high school to a later start time will necessitate changes for middle and elementary school start times since buses are shared among all the schools in the county. So now the issue seems to be money. There’s a cost for modernizing the routing and scheduling process with a software system and there will be an increase in the number of drivers and buses to allow for some overlap in timing.
What can parents and guardians do to move this process along? It sure would be great to know that next year’s scheduling will have students’ health and safety needs as the top priority.
Don’t miss last week’s column How to work with a hands off dad
The case for changing high school start times has been well made. Waiting for a bus or walking in the dark is indeed a safety concern. Students’ safety as well as health should be a priority for decision makers. A good night’s sleep supports the immune system for germ fighting, the reflexes needed for safe driving, mood regulation to alleviate depression, the body’s metabolism (breakdown of food) to prevent obesity and most importantly, the brain’s ability to review and sort the prior day’s lessons for memory storage. If this isn’t important to the county board of education, they’re in the wrong business.
Just as surely as nature will turn children into adolescents, the earth will still have 24 hours in each day. How we arrange our time for sports, clubs, childcare, work, school and sleep is up to us.
As a parent, guardian, teacher, student or concerned citizen, it is up to each of us to advocate for this change to take place as soon as possible. The next school year’s budget is now being discussed. In the presentation to the AACPS Board of Education by the county task force on Oct. 8 (which can be viewed on the Anne Arundel County School website), there was mention of an estimated increase of $600,000-$9 million to the AACPS’s $1 billion budget to provide for the routing software and additional bus service.
You can easily add to the discussion with Anne Arundel County Public Schools on a webpage created expressly for input on this issue.
You can contact school board members directly to be sure they know you support later start times.
You can keep up with news and action items on the issue through the local chapter of Start School Later.
You can also communicate with county council members to be sure they support a budget increase.
The most expensive bus routing software would be a small percentage of the total annual budget for AACPS. Choosing among the four schedule options presented by the task force, cost increases would less than 1 percent of the school budget.
With elections coming up, query candidates or see if they have posted positions about the importance of healthy school start times. Both county executive candidates, Steve Schuh and George Johnson, are in favor of change, as are county council candidates Chris Trumbauer (Annapolis) and Patrick Armstrong (Severna Park).
Contact your state representatives in the Maryland General Assembly. Senator Ed Reilly has been an advocate for changing start times. Last year’s Senate Bill 14 created a Task Force to Study Safe and Healthy School Hours for Maryland Public Schools. The task force report, due out in December, may recommend specific healthy start times (whether for all students or just high school students). This may spur legislation during the coming 2015 session which could impact all state schools as early as July 1.
Join voices with your school’s PTA officers, who may or may not be aware that the Maryland PTA supported Senate Bill 14. The National PTA website states that its overall purpose is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.
So be that advocate. Anne Arundel County does not have to cling to one of the earliest high school start times in the nation. Many of us are looking forward to moving forward.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com