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Later start time for E.O. Smith discussed

By CLAIRE GALVIN

Chronicle Staff Writer

MANSFIELD — The early bird may get the worm, but the early-rising high school student is too sleepy to focus on the worm — or anything else really.

Citing studies that show this, the Regional School District 19 Board of Education is considering implementing a later school start time for students at E.O. Smith High School.

The board discussed it at a meeting Tuesday evening.

Dr. Jennifer Kanaan, of the UConn Health Center Sleep Medicine Department, gave a presentation during the meeting explaining the benefits of a later start time.

Currently, E.O. Smith starts school at 7:25 a.m.

Kanaan explained how several towns in Connecticut are already shifting to a later time.

In addition, California implemented a restriction this fall about how early high school students can start school, Kanaan said.

“I get the sense we’re at a tipping point in Connecticut in terms of people really recognizing the science behind school start time changes,” Kanaan said.

She said later school start times are beneficial to adolescents because their “internal clocks” are different from children and adults.

During the sleep cycle, the ideal stage is the REM stage. This deep sleep stage is the most restorative, Kanaan said.

For adults, this cycle usually occurs between 1 and 3 a.m. For teenagers, this occurs later, such as between 3 and 6 a.m., she said.

“Teenagers biologically are in an entirely different time zone,” Kanaan said. “That’s just how they’re hard-wired.”

Additionally, adolescents need between nine and nine and a half hours of sleep a night, a number that is difficult for increasingly busy high school students to reach.

“If you don’t get enough sleep, you struggle,” Kanaan said. “You’re not at peak performance. It’s like filling your tank in your car with a half-gas, half-water compound.”

Kanaan told the board research has shown teenagers go to bed around the same time, even if they have a later school start time.

Even that extra 30 or 40 minutes can make a difference to teenagers, she said.

The board agreed the argument for a later start time is sound and it is an issue of logistics.

Because the high school is a regional one — with students attending from Mansfield, Willington and Ashford, among other towns — students are traveling on the bus for up to 30 or 40 minutes.

Coordinating the bus system with the other school districts would be challenging, board members admitted.

“I fully agree that a later start time would be terrific, but it’s a very complex issue,” District 19 Board of Education Chairman Jim Mark said.

The board recommended creating a task force to further discuss the logistics, as well as reach out to the municipal districts to discuss bus schedules.

 

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