The teen’s lament is familiar across Montgomery County, where the opening bell of high school rings at 7:25. But such pre-dawn travails have taken on more urgency in recent weeks, propelling a burgeoning effort to change the hours of the high school day.
The goal: a start time of 8:15 or later.
The idea’s at the heart of an online petition, started by a Garrett Park parent, that has garnered thousands of signatures since Oct. 15 and is firing up debate on community and school e-mail discussion groups. Students have signed on, too.
“Either this or less homework. Please,” wrote a North Potomac teen. “I’m barely even alive right now.”
The effort comes six months after Fairfax County school leaders voted to establish a goal of later start times for high schools. The county is now hiring a consultant to come up with a “blueprint for change” by early next year.
Supporters say a growing body of sleep research shows that teens are biologically wired for later bedtimes and later wake-ups. And studies show that lack of sleep is linked to lower academic performance, absenteeism, and an increased risk of depression and car crashes.
Another danger was at issue this week, too: A student was fatally struck by a car at 7:03 a.m. as she crossed busy Route 118 in the dark on her way to Seneca Valley High School. Some parents wonder if the early school-opening hour was a contributing factor.
“It’s dark out — and it’s not safe,” said parent Shelly McGill of Bethesda.
Critics say that pushing back start times would be complex, cost too much, and affect after-school activities and sports. School buses in Montgomery do double or triple duty, shuttling the oldest students first, then middle-schoolers and finally the youngest.
For many parents, a change cannot come soon enough.
Beth Newman, who has 14-year-old twins at Magruder High School in Rockville, said her husband, who is in charge of morning wake-ups, uses an array of tactics to rouse their slumbering sons: flipping on the lights, turning up the radio, threatening to keep them from activities. “It’s just torture. It’s a constant struggle,” said Newman, who works as a substitute teacher in Montgomery and has seen teens fall asleep in class, especially during first period.
Other students nap after school. They ask parents for rides, rather than take the bus, so they can sleep in as long as possible. One Kensington teen says being tired is one of the most discussed topics of every school day.
Mike Kramer, 16, a junior at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, started a Facebook page on the issue last year on a night when he had “seven to eight hours of homework and I was up to 2 a.m. and I had to get up at 6.”