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School Start Time Committee Hears NMS Survey Report

Published: May 5, 2017

The Board of Education’s School Start Time Committee members heard a report at their meeting on May 1 on a survey taken by Newtown Middle School seventh graders.

At its previous meeting on May 9 the school board heard a report on a similar student survey at Newtown High School.

The School Start Time Committee was formed after the Board of Education made a motion at its March 7 meeting for Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, to form a committee “to research the possibilities of changing school schedules based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that middle and high schools start at 8:30 am or later.”

School Start Time Committee subgroups have been looking at research associated with the topics of sleep and school start times, after school impacts, transportation tier options, and contractual implications. A report is due to the school board for June 6.

“We surveyed students similar to the survey that was conducted at the high school,” said NMS Assistant Principal Jim Ross.

According to the survey results shared at the meeting, 228 students completed the survey. Results are provided in rounded numbers. To the question, “In an ideal world, what would be the best time for the school day?” 36 percent of the seventh grade students responded with 8 am to 2:42 pm; 32 percent of the students responded that 7:45 am to 2:27 would be ideal and 30 percent responded that 7:20 am to 2:02 pm would be ideal. A smaller portion of students chose the answer of 9 am to 3:42 pm.

When asked the follow-up question of “Which played the biggest role (choose one) in your choice of start and end time?” 56 percent of the students chose “sleep.”

There were six questions on the NMS student survey. To the question “If you had an extra 30 to 60 minutes of sleep, I would…” 67 percent of the students answered “go to bed at the same time.”

Mr Ross said the eighth grade students were not surveyed because, “the eighth graders are going to be in high school” when a school start time change could go into effect.

Board of Education member and School Start Time Committee member Dan Cruson, Jr, said surveying the eighth graders would be helpful.

“I think it would at least add some valuable information as to their happiness and such,” said Mr Cruson.

Mr Ross offered to survey a sample of eighth graders.

NHS teacher Trent Harrison compared the high school survey response that 46 percent of the those students said they go to bed between 10 pm and 11 pm, while 52 percent of the seventh grade students said they go to bed between 9 pm and 10 pm.

“So our [high school] kids are losing an hour of sleep, but they are all getting up at the same time,” said Mr Harrison. “So, basically, the high school is running about an hour shorter on sleep than the middle school.”

As previously reported, NHS survey results included 46 percent of students saying 8 am to 2:42 pm would be an ideal school day and 64 percent of students said sleep was the main reason for choosing that time. NHS had 921 students participate in the survey. Students also reported in the survey they would prefer 30 minutes to one hour more in the morning, and 87 percent of students responded that they would “go to bed at the same time “ if the school day began later.

Committee members who attended the Adolescent Sleep, Health, and School Start Times, The National Conference in Washington, DC, April 27 and 28 also shared information with the committee at the meeting.

School board Vice Chair Michelle Ku, board member John Vouros, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Jean Evans Davila, and committee member Kim Joyce attended the conference. Ms Ku said one of the biggest messages at the conference was that school start times should be later in the morning based on public health concerns.

According to notes shared by the conference attendees, information shared at the conference also included that the circadian rhythm shifts later for teens, while the drive to sleep takes longer to build; when teens wake at 5 am or 6 am the natural sleep cycle is interrupted; and motor vehicle crashes are the most common cause of death in teens and sleep deprivation increases the odds of have a crash.

Conference attendees also spoke about a range of strategies and warnings learned around changing school start times at the two-day event.

After the reports, the committee spoke about its goals for the next few weeks. Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, reminded the committee a report is due to the Board of Education for its June 6 meeting. Committee members requested that committee member and All-Star Transportation Co-Owner Rich Dufour provide more transportation options that include an 8 am and 8:30 am school start time for NHS and NMS for the committee’s next meeting.

The school district has also scheduled a community forum on the topic of school start times and sleep on Tuesday, May 9, starting at 7 pm, in the Lecture Hall at Newtown High School, 12 Berkshire Road. The evening will include remarks from Dr Jennifer Kanaan, who is a medical practitioner and researcher in the field of sleep study, according to the district.

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