Schools adjust schedules to give students more sleep

School experts say students do better when they can sleep in a little longer.
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American's top educator says high school students do better if they sleep longer.

In a post on social media, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, "Common sense to improve student achievement that too few have implemented: let teens sleep more, start school later."

While Duncan said districts should still feel free to set their own start times, he said, research shows rested students are ready students.

They're absent or tardy less often, have lower drop-out rates, less depression and even fewer car accidents.

Several school districts in Indiana have already pushed back the clock for high school students, including Avon and Lawrence Township.

Cathedral High School also pushed back the start time by a half hour to 7:55 a.m., two years ago.

It was a move senior Luke Wojtalik welcomed.

"I'm not a morning person at all," he said. "I sleep until I'm woken up."

Wojtalik said after the new hours began, "I think I felt more awake by the third period and at the top of my game, where before it was sixth period."

Julie Barthel, Vice Principal of Curriculum and Instruction at Cathedral, said "There's no research that does not agree that teens have later sleep patterns. We're always looking as educators (to improve student performance). We know more than we did years ago about the brain."

But Barthel points out a later start also means a later end time and says Cathedral does have a large number of students involved in athletics and other after-school activities.

"So we had to look at that as well. What is the impact on the end time. Practice time, getting home later, studying later? We tried to make a decision with good balance," she said.

Senior Kathleen Kennedy, who runs cross country, does theater and works part-time, said she definitely prefers the later start.

"I'd rather sleep in a little more, it doesn't seem like a huge difference in the afternoon, really," she said.

Barthel said Cathedral made two other changes aimed at improving student performance. One involves giving students ten minutes to get to class after the first period instead of five.

"Students are very we have a longer period to build in time, for them to be social, to talk to a friend, to have a drink of water and hydrate their brain," she said.

Students also get a 45-minute lunch, but it's that extra 30 minutes in the morning that Kennedy likes most, which is a switch from her elementary school days.

"I don't remember when I was younger having to lay in bed for so long," she said. "I struggle to get up now. It's so hard to get up in the morning."

She says even an extra hour helps.

But Barthel also says the move was relatively easy for Cathedral.

"We have the benefit of just thinking about one school," she said. "Other districts have to think about their elementary schools and the safety of students at their buses. But if schools can look at this and see if they can fit it into their overall schedules, then it's definitely going to be valuable to their students."