By Raewyn Kraybill
Students that attend schools with start times more aligned to their sleep schedules are less likely to be in a car crash, less at risk for mental illness, and physically healthier. By shifting start times later, schools could save lives. Additionally, students that attend schools with later start times see an uptick in academic performance, mood, focus and athletic ability (What’s). The CDC recommends start times be moved to 8:30 a.m. or later for the health of students (Fattal). Currently, Manheim Township is one of the schools that starts a whole hour before the CDC recommended time. Later start times would benefit schools, students and teachers greatly. So why have schools hesitated for so long to make this change?
Some schools in the Lancaster area have begun to consider moving start times later. Ephrata School District finalized a proposal on later start times, citing the improved mental and physical health of students. Hempfield and Solanco are also among schools considering the change (Lancaster). Manheim Township could very well be next.
However, there are many barriers to the shifting of start times. The biggest one is the issue of finances. Schools save money by reusing buses for elementary and high schools and staggering the times. The need to save money overrides the better option for students. However, one study showed that in the long term, later start times could actually save money. “ A recent report published by the Brookings Institution predicts that starting high schools one hour later would result in roughly $17,500 in increased future earnings per student in present value – a benefit:cost ratio of at least 9:1” (What’s) If schools commit to the wellness of students, they can look forward to benefits in the future.
Later start times would also mean after-school activities would be pushed later, causing students to arrive home late at night. However, this would align more accurately with a teenage body’s natural sleep schedule. Late nights and later morning are what lead to the benefits mentioned earlier, so later activities wouldn’t be a problem at all. Shifting start times later creates a need for teachers and students to adjust to new sleep schedules; but once systems adjusted to later times for sports and clubs, there would be little problem with events running later. In fact, this would line up with the natural sleep schedule of students.
The evidence is clear: Later start times have numerous benefits, but will come at a cost that schools may not be willing to pay. However, it is a cost they should pay. Later start times would be extremely beneficial to everyone learning and tracking at Manheim Township, and it would be a positive direction to move in. If schools choose to take the easy option and not implement this positive change, students will continue to suffer from lack of sleep and the health effects that come with it. If schools are truly for students, they should operate on the schedule that works best for them. As many school districts consider starting school later, they are forced to choose between long term financial benefit and student wellness, or immediate financial benefit and efficiency.