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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of education stories that will appear in the Daily Press this week, as many local children head back to school.
VICTORVILLE — Most local high school students are early risers. But not by choice.
While research cited by the National Sleep Foundation indicates that teenagers today face a widespread chronic health problem of sleep deprivation, at least 14 local high schools start classes between 7 and 7:30 a.m.
“Teens are among those least likely to get enough sleep,” according to a report by the nonprofit NSF, citing research by scholars Amy R. Wolfson and Mary A. Carskadon. “While they need on average 9 1/4 hours of sleep per night for optimal performance, health and brain development, teens average fewer than seven hours per school night by the end of high school, and most report feeling tired during the day.”
The roots of the problem, according to the article titled “Later School Start Times,” at www.sleepfoundation.org, are poor teen sleep habits that do not allow for enough hours of quality rest; hectic schedules with after-school activities and jobs, homework hours and family obligations; and a clash between societal demands, such as early school start times, and biological changes that put most teens on a later “sleep-wake clock.”
In the Victor Valley Union High School District, Superintendent Ron Williams said starting classes at 7 a.m. at Victor Valley High is a long-standing tradition and is driven mostly by transportation and busing logistics. The district shares buses amongst its schools and can only accommodate so many routes at once.
“I haven’t looked at the research in a while, but I know based on previous research, teens would fare a little better (with later start times),” Williams said. “But we also have to think about tradition. Victor Valley High School already starts at 7 a.m. — which is quite early.”
For years, the High Desert’s oldest high schools (such as Victor Valley High and Apple Valley High) have been starting their classes not long after the winter sun rises.
Victor Valley High counselor Andrea Porter said she sees a few students each semester who claim they’re failing their morning classes due to tiredness.
“As far as them being sleep deprived, I’ve had some come in and say they’re failing first period, and they tell me it’s because they’re tired and they can’t get up in the morning,” Porter said. “The studies have shown that teens’ minds don’t work until later in the day, like 10 a.m. or so.”
Porter said a few other students come late to school because they’re responsible for helping younger siblings get off to school at a later time. She said VVHS tries to entice needy students to school early with free breakfast.
But she doesn’t think a later start time would change the majority of students’ performance.
“If kids started later they would probably just stay up later,” Porter said. “Really with the majority of kids I see that are failing, there’s a few that it’s the first period of the day, but not enough to say they should switch a school schedule.”
Dr. Usha Gautam, a practicing neurologist in Barstow, said people with sleep deprivation have trouble concentrating and can’t focus, which could obviously impact learning. Nonetheless, she is supportive of early school start times.
“Children especially are more resilient,” Gautam said. “They can change their sleep patterns easier. When you look at studies of brain retention I can see why some schools start early. Studies have shown the earlier a child is taught in the morning, they tend to retain more. Keeping that in mind, every parent and student should be diligent about making sure they’re getting an appropriate amount of sleep each night.”
Snowline Joint Unified Superintendent Luke Ontiveros said he’s lived and worked in the Phelan community for 28 years and Serrano High School has always started at 7 a.m. He said elementary schools start around 8 a.m. and middle schools at about 9 a.m. He cites transportation limitations as the primary reason for early start times for high school students.
“What it’s predicated on is transportation routes,” Ontiveros said. “We use the same buses for elementary, middle and high school. When you think about kids getting on the bus early — some as early as 6 a.m. — what age group is most conducive for that? A younger or older kid? It’s not a perfect science. Absolutely not.”
Adelanto High School previously announced a 7 a.m. start time for the coming school year, but it was switched back to 8:10 a.m. a week before classes began due to employee union negotiations, Williams said.
For students, the benefit of starting school at 7 a.m. is that school is out earlier, typically before 2 p.m., allowing for more time at a part-time job or for extracurricular activities.
“I was actually kind of excited about going at 7 a.m.,” said Alexis Ehlinger, a senior at Adelanto High. “I’m going to try to get a job, so I would have more time after school. I’m really not a morning person either, and I was mad at first. But then I got used to the idea because you have to look at the better side of things.”
However, Ehlinger said she plans to get more sleep now that the start time has been moved back.
“It’ll be just like normal; I’ll get more sleep, so that’s good, ” Ehlinger said. “I have an advanced placement class first period, so that will help — I hope.”
Brooke Self may be reached at 760-951-6232 or BSelf@VVDailyPress.com. You can also follow her on Twitter at @BrookeSelf or @DPEduNews.