Win­nipeg School Divi­sion ex­plores later start times

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS I WORLD - DAN­TON UNGER

ETHAN Harder’s alarm sounds at

7:30 a.m. ev­ery week­day.

An hour later, the 17-year-old is out the door of his home and on his way to Col­lège Gar­den City Col­le­giate.

By 8:45 a.m. Harder is sit­ting — and strug­gling to stay awake — in his first­pe­riod class.

“It’s pretty quiet. It’s us sit­ting there and lis­ten­ing to our teacher pretty much the whole time,” Harder said. “It’s pretty rough.”

Like many stu­dents across Canada, Harder fights to keep his eyes open and his at­ten­tion on the les­son.

One-third of Cana­dian teenagers don’t get enough sleep and over-tired stu­dents are spilling into early morn­ing class­rooms.

That’s what a 2016 re­port from McGill Univer­sity found when nearly

30,000 stu­dents be­tween the ages of 10 and 18 were in­ter­viewed in 362 schools across the coun­try.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, school ad­min­is­tra­tors are be­gin­ning to see the ef­fects that a lack of sleep can have on a de­vel­op­ing mind — from an uptick in ab­sences and fail­ing grades, to the on­set of men­tal health prob­lems in­clud­ing de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and suicidal thoughts.

The re­port rec­om­mends teenagers tuck in for at least eight hours of sleep a night. With Cana­dian high school classes start­ing around 8:45 a.m. on average, and al­low­ing an hour for morn­ing rou­tine and travel, a stu­dent should be in bed by 10:45 p.m. to get the right amount of sleep.

The prob­lem is pu­berty, ac­cord­ing to the McGill re­port.

Ev­ery­one has what’s called a circadian rhythm — an in­ter­nal timer that tells the body when to sleep. Dur­ing ado­les­cence, a teenager’s rhythm is de­layed up to two hours, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for most teens to fall asleep be­fore 11:00 p.m. ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished in the Sleep Medicine jour­nal and ref­er­enced by the McGill re­port.

The de­lay only be­comes more pro­nounced when cell­phones and screens are in­tro­duced into the equa­tion. So, what’s the an­swer?

One pos­si­ble so­lu­tion is push­ing school start times to 9:30 a.m. in or­der to give stu­dents a healthy and pro­duc­tive start to the day, the McGill re­port notes.

It’s a strat­egy that the Win­nipeg School Divi­sion (WSD) is look­ing at im­ple­ment­ing in its 14 sec­ondary schools.

Last year, for­mer WSD trustee Cathy Collins rec­om­mended the divi­sion pre­pare a re­port ex­plor­ing the pros and cons of start­ing classes at 9:30 a.m., a half hour later than the cur­rent start time.

“Prob­a­bly teens have had this prob­lem for many years, but now there are stud­ies about it,” Collins said. “To get to class on time, stu­dents are ba­si­cally fight­ing their bi­ol­ogy.”

While the data shows there is a prob­lem with sleep among teens, not all agree a later start time in schools would ac­tu­ally ben­e­fit stu­dents.

Lu­cas Ro­drigues, a teacher at Isaac Brock School, said he’s skep­ti­cal.

“It’s one of those things where we say we want teenagers to get more sleep, but then if they start an hour later they will just go to bed an hour later,” Ro­drigues said.

“There’s not too many jobs that will have a late start time, so it’s not re­ally prep­ping them for life af­ter school.”

Ro­drigues said he has had a few prob­lems with Grade 9 stu­dents show­ing up late for his 9 a.m. so­cial stud­ies class, but didn’t be­lieve a later start time would solve the is­sue.

“I found that kids are usu­ally pretty good in the morn­ing,” Ro­drigues said. “There may be one kid who is ex­tremely tired and yawn­ing, but the kid will say they had been up all night play­ing Fort­nite or some video game like that.”

The Win­nipeg School Divi­sion is in the process of sur­vey­ing staff, stu­dents and par­ents for the up­com­ing re­port, which will gauge in­ter­est in the de­layed start time.

“This is not in­for­ma­tion unique to Win­nipeg, it’s been looked at by school boards across the coun­try,” Collins said. “But so far there has been lit­tle up­take on it.”

Schools in 46 U.S. states have adopted later start times, ac­cord­ing to a de­layed start time ad­vo­cacy web­site, Start School Later. In Canada only five school boards have changed their start times, in­clud­ing the Kee­watin-Pa­tri­cia Dis­trict School Board (KPDSB).

The KPDSB has six high schools across north­west­ern On­tario, spread over two time zones. Some ru­ral schools in the divi­sion started as early as 7:45 a.m., mean­ing many stu­dents were catch­ing the bus at 6:15 a.m. for a 90-minute bus ride.

For many schools in the dis­trict, specif­i­cally in north­ern com­mu­ni­ties, staff were faced with his­tor­i­cally high dropout rates and de­creas­ing grad­u­a­tion rates.

“No­body seemed to be able to stop these drop-out rates,” di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion Sean Mon­teith said. “What was hap­pen­ing was these kids were just say­ing, ‘To hell with it, I’m not go­ing to school.’”

At the start of the 2015-16 school year, KPDSB pushed all high school start times in the dis­trict to 9 a.m.

Mon­teith said it took a year for the divi­sion to fully im­ple­ment the time change and it was not with­out chal­lenges.

It took staff and stu­dents a while to get used to the later start time and the divi­sion had to work with em­ploy­ers to ac­com­mo­date af­ter-school jobs. Ex­tracur­ric­u­lar sports pro­grams had to be ad­justed, as well, and bus sched­ules had to be changed to ac­com­mo­date the stu­dents.

“The data shows that it worked,” said Mon­teith, who added that, anec­do­tally, he has seen an in­crease in at­ten­dance and pass­ing grades.

For stu­dents like Harder, the ex­tra sleep would be a wel­come change.

“If start­ing at 9:30 a.m. is what would hap­pen, I would like to see that and I think prob­a­bly most kids would agree with me,” Harder said. “It could be pretty ben­e­fi­cial if used wisely.”

DAN­TON UNGER / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Stu­dent Ethan Harder, 17, says ex­tra sleep time in the morn­ing would make school easier.

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