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FNSBSD Considers Changing School Start Times

More research is showing later school start times for teenagers might lead to better student performance. A presentation to the Fairbanks North Star Borough school board last night examined changing school start times to let teenagers get more sleep. The Board of Education will vote tonight on whether to keep paying for a consultant to study the possibilities.

There is a lot of research across the country about younger kids starting school earlier, like 8:00 a.m., and teens starting later in the morning, like 9:30 that shows improvement in grades and health. But it is parents and students, not research, that brought this question to Interior Alaska.

 This is gonna involve the whole community and this is gonna be a big change.”

That was board member Sean Rice. At Monday’s worksession, the board looked at making changes as early as next year, but not before a lot of analysis and parent input.

The consultant, Shannon Bingham of Western Demographics, Inc. was hired in July to derive possible bus schedules and school start times that might help family schedules, improve test scores and reduce costs. He says the research points to student sleep deprivation.

“We’re systemically creating an environment in which they don’t get enough sleep.”

National sleep studies involving thousands of children show 10th and 11th graders go to sleep at about 10:30 p.m. but are supposed to wake up at 5:45 a.m. to be to school on time. That’s just over seven hours of sleep.

“So you can see, they’re just fenced in at both ends.”

Bingham quoted research from Minnesota and Colorado (Teens and Sleep – Dr. Kyla L. Wahlstrom, University of Minnesota) (Dr. Lisa J. Meltzer, National Jewish Health Hospital Network) showing kids who get 8 hours of sleep get a period of about 3 hours of the deep sleep state where information gets transferred to long-term memory. So kids retain what they learn.

The studies showed students receiving at least 8 hours sleep are less likely to smoke, use alcohol, use cannabis, be sexually active, report symptoms of depression, or fall asleep in class.

The Minnesota data showed kids starting an hour later gained a whole letter grade of higher performance.

But board member Tim Doran noticed that none of that research is from Alaska, and asked Bingham to get more local information.

Right now, high schools across the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District start at 7:45, elementary schools at 8:30 or 8:45 am and middle schools at 9:30 in the morning. In North Pole, the middle and elementary schools are flipped, with the elementary school starting at 9:00.

“Our busses transport HS kids, then they swing back around and do a middle school route, then they do an elementary school route. So we are three-tier in Fairbanks and two-tier in North Pole.”

Bingham has been working with the district’s transportation coordinator, Ryan Hinton. They came up with four scenarios to change school start times and bus routes that would allow students, especially those in high school, to improve their performance. The detailed reports are posted on the school district’s website, in the Board of Education’s agenda.   

If the board votes at tonight’s meeting to approve extending the study to a second phase, Bingham plans open-house information events and a parent survey. He wants to look at how high school extra?curricular activities, athletics and student jobs might be affected, as well as childcare and older students supervising their younger siblings.

The board would look at the data again in February, and decide if changes should begin as early as next school year.