Opinion: The School Day Should Be Shortened

Jolie Futterman, Grade 9, Staff Writer

The Coronavirus pandemic taught the world that a long school day is not necessary. In the High School of American Studies remote learning schedule, students spend three to four hours in live classes on Zoom. The rest of the classes are “asynchronous,” where teachers assign work that is done unsupervised. Although Zoom learning is far from ideal, it eliminates students’ commute time, giving them valuable time to rest. The pandemic has shown that high schoolers can learn from four hours of live classes while improving sleep schedules and overall health. Hence, the school day should be shortened to start at 9:00 A.M.

Before the pandemic, HSAS began at 8:05 A.M. The school day consisted of seven periods, ending at 2:48 P.M. Students arrived home only to stay up late finishing homework. This schedule allowed minimal free time and limited sleeping hours. Shortening the school day would increase the amount of sleep students would be able to get and improve their mental health.

Although students at HSAS only have about four live classes a day, they also have asynchronous classes — classes held off of Zoom. Teachers may assign work or videos, but overall, it is easier to handle compared to live lessons.

The first period online at HSAS starts at 8:05 A.M., but without the long commute, students are able to sleep in much later than if school was in-person. This extra sleep is more valuable than people tend to recognize. Teenagers are biologically wired to need eight to ten hours of sleep per night. Their circadian rhythm also makes them more prone to wake up later in the day. Sleep is essential for brain development and brain function.

Additionally, increased sleep has been shown to improve depression symptoms and overall mental health. One of the leading causes of teen death is suicide and self-harm, a result of the poor mental health found in teens today. Studies estimate that 90 percent of children with depression suffer from sleep deprivation. Starting school at 9:00 A.M. would allow extra time for sleep.

Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center in Rhode Island conducted a study in which a twenty-five-minute delay in school start times was implemented. With this extra twenty-five minutes, there was an average of a twenty-nine-minute increase in overall sleep time. Before the change in school start times, only 18 percent of students were getting over eight hours of sleep. After the change in school start times, 44 percent of students were shown to sleep over eight hours per night, improving their mood and focus.

This begs the question: shouldn’t we align school schedules with work schedules? To this, science replies that extra time is key to improving students’ sleep, thereby improving their mental health.

It’s time to stop ignoring the science and start paying attention to the students. School administrators must show their dedication to the overall well-being and success of their students. It is unacceptable to ignore the clear scientific evidence in front of them.

Many parents have to be at work by or before 8:00 A.M. and need to drop off their children at school, so this solution would only apply to high schools.

It’s important to recognize that these changes are not entirely up to HSAS. State regulations require a certain amount of hours in school. HSAS itself is not allowed to change these hours. However, that does not change the volume of the need for this change. Each generation of students learns differently, and why is our school system not evolving with our brains?

So, why now? The pandemic has shown that we can survive on a four hour school day, although it may be far from ideal. So, shouldn’t we be able to survive, and even prosper, on a six-hour school day, from 9:00 A.M. - 2:48 P.M.? Nothing is normal right now, except maybe (and finally!) a student's sleep schedule. Educators must commit to maintaining this improvement by shortening the school day.

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