U-CF students get more sleep, need even more

It was three years ago when Unionville-Chadds Ford School District moved school start times back 25 minutes for senior and middle school students. Instead of those students beginning classes at 7:35 a.m., they started at 8.

According to Superintendent John Sanville, the change has been a hit. “From my seat, that change, on a number of fronts has exceeded expectations with the most important data point that we have is that our students are sleeping more,” he said during the school board’s Feb. 10 work session.

(File photo from 2016) Dr. Judith Owens makes her presentation on the need for later school start times for teenagers. She said it's almost impossible for a teenager to falls asleep before 11 p.m.

While moving the start time back almost one-half hour wasn’t perfect, it was an improvement for the teenage students whose internal clocks change to needing more sleep in the morning. He went on to say that students are reporting that they’re getting more sleep when they need it and that national health organizations are calling for an 8:30 start time.

U-CF was one of the first districts in Pennsylvania to adopt the later start time. Since then, many of the districts have made changes as well or are at least investigating changes. Now the board may consider pushing star times back further. A vote on whether to begin a new investigation to consider a possible move for an 8:30 or later start time is anticipated for March. Sanville stressed that a vote would only be for an investigation into another change, not a vote for the actual change.

“I want the community to know that no decisions have been made,” Sanville said. “If the board votes for us to investigate, it could very well be that the committee comes back with a recommendation of a change or a recommendation of no change.”

The committee, if authorized, would look at changing to at least 8:30, according to the administration’s recommendation.

Assistant Superintendent John Nolen said that while the start time change three years ago was for only 25 minutes, with other shifts in rerouting buses and other changes, hundreds of students actually got an extra 45 minutes in the morning. The effects of the change have been positive.

Nolen said students are reporting they get more sleep and that wellness indicators have improved. Also, athletic programs continue to prosper. One of the concerns about the original change was that student athletes would lose instruction time in the afternoon because they would be getting ready for away games during regular classroom time. He said that was ameliorated by the district’s Lunch and Learn program. During the students’ one-hour lunch period, they are free to play ball, brush up for exams or get some one-on-one with teachers. Many student athletes have taken advantage of that program to get the instruction they might otherwise miss.

The wellness improvement data include better attendance, suspension data and students reporting better focus in class, Nolen said, adding that the administration believes in the science that says later start times are better for the middle and high school students, “But we don’t know if the logistics work."

If the board approves moving ahead with the study, a committee will be formed and begin its work in March with an eye toward making a recommendation this November. If the committee recommends a change and the board accepts, that change would go into effect for the 2021-2022 school year, Nolen said.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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