MICHELLE TRUDEAU: I'm Michelle Trudeau.
Most high schools start around 7:30 a.m. This leaves many teenagers nodding off in the morning. So some school districts around the country have tried to help sleepy teens by starting high school later.
Educational researcher Kyla Wahlstrom from the University of Minnesota has been following districts that have changed their start times, tracking the impact on schools and students. The Minneapolis school district, for example, radically changed its start time from 7:20 to 8:40 a.m., giving its 12,000 high schoolers and extra hour and 20 minuets each morning.
Ms. KYLA WAHLSTROM (Educational Researcher, University of Minnesota): Students reported less depression when there's a later starting time. Teachers reported the students were more alert and ready for learning. Parents reported their children were easier to live with because their emotions were more regulated.
TRUDEAU: Over 80 school districts throughout the country have now changed to a later start time, according to the National Sleep Foundation - ranging from large urban school districts, like Minneapolis, to suburban districts, such as Jessamine County in central Kentucky. There, discussions about starting school later proceeded for a year and a half, and included all the stakeholders - parents, teachers, coaches, kids.
Eventually a plan emerged: flip the elementary school start time with the high school start time, since research shows that young children aren't sleepy in the early morning like the typical teenager. So in 2003, Jessamine County's high schools started 50 minutes later. This had a big impact on high school students, says District Superintendent Lou(ph) Young.
Ms. LOU YOUNG (District Superintendent, Jessamine County): We found that our students were more on time and in better attendance first period than they had been in a the past.
TRUDEAU: For many school districts a major obstacle in making a change in start time is the costs and scheduling of buses. Some districts, however, have juggled their bus schedules without incurring additional expense. Kay Rosene works for the West Des Moines, Iowa school district. There, by changing the start times of the elementary, middle and high schools they reduce the number of buses needed and produced a financial windfall.
Ms. KAY ROSENE (West Des Moines, Iowa School District): With a school start time change we could save approximately $700,000 annually.
TRUDEAU: At the Mahtomedi school district in Minnesota, the after school athletic schedule was a challenge. But the high school students there, agreed to shorten the number of minutes they're given to get from one class to another so they can start school later but end their school day at about the same time and not disrupt the athletic schedule. So, since 2005, first bell for these high schoolers has been 35 minutes later.
Superintendent Mark Wolak says parents endorse the decision five-to-one and teachers especially were behind a change.
Mr. MARK WOLAK (Superintendent, Mahtomedi School District): They were concerned about student attendance and student readiness to learn that first period of the day. And one of the anecdotal findings was that we noticed better attendance and less students sleeping in class that first hour.
TRUDEAU: Resulting, Wolak believes, in more learning by teens who are more alert. The Mahtomedi school district will conduct a formal evaluation in June to see the improvements in teenagers' attendance and attention are real.
For NPR News, I'm Michelle Trudeau.
RENE MONTAGNE, host:
And if you just woke up from a bad night's sleep, you can go to NPR.org/YourHealth and submit your questions to our sleep expert, Dr. Helene Emsellem.
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