I am a senior at Hazen High School, though I participate full time in the Running Start program. Attending Bellevue College allows me to have control over my schedule that was impossible at Hazen.
I have experienced first-hand the consequences of the early start times that the Renton School District employs in its high schools. I never thought I would be one of the kids who falls asleep in class, but I found my head on my desk more times than I can count during sophomore year.
I missed 30 days of school that year – that’s one out of every six school days – due to illness and anxiety that was in part caused and exacerbated by poor sleep. In order to preserve my academic performance, I was forced to sacrifice my health to the 7:20 morning bell.
The Renton School District enforces one of the earliest start times in the state. Though most of Washington’s high schools begin before 8 a.m., few dare to see students in their seats before 7:30.
The National Sleep Foundation states that “Adolescent sleep deprivation is largely driven by a conflict between teens’ internal biological clocks and the schedules and demands of society. Therefore, it makes sense to look at school start times.” The American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement last year recommending high schools delay the first bell to 8:30 a.m. or later.
A study done in the Minneapolis School District demonstrated the positive impact of pushing start times forward. A change from a 7:15 to an 8:40 a.m. bell improved attendance and enrollment rates and decreased student-reported depression. Other advantages include better grades, fewer tardies and a decreased risk of drowsy driving.
I am bringing this to your attention because I believe it is the Renton community’s time to act. Our neighboring school districts are currently pushing large advocacy efforts.
Issaquah students and parents are petitioning for an 8:30 a.m. start time. The Bellevue and Mercer Island School Districts have paired up to form a High School Start Time Steering Committee that is urging for an 8:30 a.m. bell. Finally, the Seattle Schools Superintendent has proposed for its high schools and middle schools to start at 8:50 a.m.
Transportation conflicts are fixed by making elementary start times earlier, something that pairs well with young children’s internal clocks.
The benefits in student performance and well-being that these school districts will reap mean that Renton cannot stay “ahead of the curve” by forcing students to wake up more than an hour before their surrounding peers. I do not want to see future students disadvantaged because of an unhealthy policy.