EASD continues sleep study discussion; considering later school day start time

By on November 20, 2019

Ephrata Area School District officials have partnered with WellSpan Philhaven Hospital to study school start times.

They’re specifically trying to determine if later start times would benefit students.

While data from EASD parent and student surveys on sleep habits are being reviewed, no recommendations have been made thus far.

“No proposal has been made to the Board yet,” Superintendent Dr. Brian Troop Troop said at the Nov. 18 school board meeting,

The board will hold a community information session about sleep pattern studies and answer questions about a decision to change start times on Monday, Dec. 9, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Ephrata Middle School Auditorium.

If approved, EASD would be one of the first schools in the area to make such a change, but currently, the possibility is just a pleasant dream for sleep-deprived students.

Information about the session can be found on the school’s website and parents are encouraged to submit questions they may have in advance of the meeting, Troop said.

In recent years, much scientific research has been done pertaining to adolescent sleep with many findings discovering detrimental effects from waking too early.

As a result of this research, school districts across the country have been making changes to starting times by starting the school day at a later hour.

A district research team has been working with WellSpan Health, learning about brain health and sleep patterns, Troop said.

The school district initiated this partnership, Troop said, with an eye toward improving students’ health and school performance.

If the district and school board decide to change school start times, it could affect all grades, Troop said, explaining that currently, middle school and high school students are picked up first, then the buses pick up elementary and intermediate students.

The district’s team has been consulting with WellSpan Health to gain information from licensed psychologists who have compiled research on school start times and how those times affect adolescent sleep.

“The administrative team has decided to pursue this after learning more about (sleep studies) because it is one of our responsibilities that our district reflects the most recent, positive scientific research to better align our district with what science and research is telling us that our kids need,” Troop said.

WellSpan Philhaven psychologists Samantha R. Wertheimer and Lydia Bacon Hackenberg outlined the physiological reasons why teens and adolescents need more sleep.

The pair noted that sleep patterns are not a form of teenage rebellion but a change in the onset of melatonin secretion — delaying optimum sleep time until about 10:30 or 11 p.m. — making the ideal waking time for teens between 8 and 8:30 a.m.

Sleeping late on weekends or days off does not help, and only further disrupts the circadian sleep cycle, thereby decreasing daytime alertness.

Having later school start times for teens and adolescents is resulting in improved grades and improved attendance, several studies have shown.

It is anticipated that a recommendation to adjust school start times for the 2020-2021 school year will be made to the board in early 2020.

Be sure to read more news from Monday’s school board meeting in an upcoming edition of The Ephrata Review.

Marylouise Sholly is a freelance feature writer for The Ephrata Review. She welcomes your comments and questions at weezsholly@verizon.net. 

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