Cherry Hill East should keep the later school start time

Later start times are beneficial for high school students.

Courtesy of Illustoon

Later start times are beneficial for high school students.

The pros and cons of later school start times has been one of the most widely debated school issues for years now, but for most schools around the nation, Cherry Hill Public Schools included, little change has occurred. As history has shown time and time again, it’s easy to stick to the status quo when it appears to be working just fine.

However, this past year with the pandemic, every single industry has been given an opportunity to re-evaluate the way it operates and Cherry Hill schools are no exception.

For the entire 2020-21 school year, Cherry Hill East has been operating on a much later schedule than usual. On the full remote schedule, classes were beginning at 9:30 and on the hybrid schedule, classes began at 9:45. Instead of the usual 8 periods, there are only 4 classes, with each day operating essentially as a typical day 5 and 6. This is a stark difference to the usual 7:30 start. This interruption in the usual schedule is a chance for Cherry Hill East and West to stop being complacent and change the start times for years to come.

Throughout this pandemic, everyone has been preaching about listening to the CDC guidelines in order to help keep our friends, family, and communities safe. As a society, we have put our trust in their knowledge and expertise to help guide us through this difficult time. If we can trust the CDC with our lives, shouldn’t we be able to trust their well-researched advice on school start times?

The CDC, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, officially recommends that high schools should begin at 8:30 or later, primarily because of all the health benefits associated with extra sleep. According to the Sleep Foundation, 70% of high schoolers do not get enough sleep. The health risks associated with limited sleep are dire: obesity, drug use, focus issues, and more. Although waking up early is hard on everybody, it’s especially difficult on an adolescents body. Research shows that asking a high school student to wake up at 7:30 AM is equivalent to asking an adult to wake up at 5:30 AM.

However, of course, later start times are easier said than done. There are many logistics to sort out in order to implement this change. How will the bus schedule work with the elementary and middle school? Should we change the amount of classes per day permanently? How will this affect extracurriculars?

In order to make this change possible, elementary schools should start earlier and high schools should only have 4 classes a day. Although these two solutions don’t solve every problem associated with starting high schools later, they do clear many of the obvious hurdles.

First, elementary schools beginning earlier solves many of the issues with bussing, as most bus drivers have several routes and obviously can not be in two places at once. Although it’s easy to associate younger kids with needing more sleep, that’s actually not the case. After age 10, kids actually require an hour more of sleep because they begin to go through the second developmental stage of cognitive maturation. Furthermore, the circadian rhythm shifts in adolescence, making it more difficult to fall asleep. These two developments compounded with the fact elementary school students have much less academic work keeping them up makes switching the start times a clear choice. Plus, there is the added benefit that parents who work early won’t have to spend as much on before school care.

Reducing the classes per day is important for a variety of reasons. It helps shorten the school day without cutting a teachers lesson short in order to accommodate after school activities. It would be counterproductive to significantly change the end time of school because everything would just get pushed back. Moreover, giving students two days instead of one to complete homework will help students manage their time, stress, and get closer to the 8-10 recommended hours of sleep.

Change is never easy, but it is often necessary. In order to help improve the school environment and each students’ wellbeing, Cherry Hill East and West should not return to the previous start times.