When should the school day start in Fairfax County? County school officials have debated the question for years. Board members recently said they would reexamine the issue next year and consider later times as a possible experiment at a few schools. Barker, a 16-year-old student, said he wanted to weigh in on the subject. When we called to remind him about a photo, his mother said he would send it "when he wakes up."
I am a 16-year-old junior at J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church. I live what one would probably call a normal life. I get up at about 6:30 every morning to get ready to go to school. I arrive at school nearly brain-dead at 7:15 and begin my first class at 7:20.
I go through the school day either taking very hard or very easy classes. I do my after-school activity when school gets out at 2:05 p.m. Then I come home and collapse into a pile of teenage mush on the couch and get to sleep around 11:30.
That is on Mondays. Every progressive day in the week gets worse until Friday, when I work with a deficit of about 20 hours of sleep. By the fourth Friday of the school year, I am about 25 hours of sleep behind. I know that this is the way for all of my friends and many of the people I just talk to in the halls. This needs to be remedied.
From a logical standpoint, teenagers, or anyone else for that matter, do not work well with little sleep. It is especially true for the quickly growing and changing bodies and minds of a teenager. With the current program, an average teenager receives about 7.3 hours of sleep a night according to a recent study. Unfortunately, a teenager needs on average 9.2 hours a night.
How does this affect us? Teens are, of course, inexperienced drivers. With the diminishing amount of sleep teenagers receive, driving at night becomes much more dangerous. It also affects academics and violence in schools. A study used in the Learning Channel program called the "Teen Species" said violence in hallways is reduced when high schools start later and the average grade rises.
These can't be avoided by just telling us to go to bed earlier. Teens do not release the sleep hormone melatonin until around 11 p.m. This means we can't accept the sleep that we get before 11 p.m. because our bodies are not ready for it.
Younger children, however, release it around 9 p.m. They also need about nine hours of sleep. If they have to get up earlier than teens, they'll still have enough sleep.
The excuse that students need time in the afternoon to complete their homework is inaccurate. I am in marching band, which takes up three hours a day, and I take almost all IB (international baccalaureate) classes. I still get my homework done with time to watch my favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, during baseball season.
So I hope that I have shown some facts that will make people more aware of the problems faced by teens every day.
I will offer a solution -- start later, say between 8:30 and 9 a.m.