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From coast to coast, later HS start time making news

April 15, 2014 — On the heels of a radio interview with KCRW of Southern California last week, Assistant Principal Liz Collins was a guest on the Brian Lehrer show in New York City on Thursday, April 10, talking about how the later start time has affected student performance at Glens Falls High School.

Mrs. Collins appeared by Skype to speak with the Peabody Award-winning host, whose hour-long weekly television show on WNYC delves into a wide variety of topics, including new social and political trends.

“We surveyed our students at two different times and initially found that … a majority of students were sleep deprived,” Mrs. Collins said. “And when they are sleep deprived, clearly their ability to focus in class was not as great.”

“When we did switch it--we’re still in the process of three phases of data collection – but after the first 2 phases our students were getting up to 30 minutes more of sleep a night,” she continued. “And our discipline write-ups have lessened, our tardiness rate is not as severe as it was 2 years ago. And another very important point is that the students are failing fewer courses in their day. So it’s definitely had a very positive impact on our student body.”

Mr. Lehrer’s other guest was Kyla Wahlstrom, director of the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota. The three of them discussed the effects of changing a school start time on athletes, parents, and other members of the school community. Ms. Wahlstrom has been studying high school start time changes for 17 years.

“When we queried kids 5 years after we made the change in Minneapolis, none of them wanted to go back and have to get up earlier again,” said Ms. Wahlstrom. “So once they start to experience the change in how much better they feel, they actually found they can live with it.”

“We know that we live in a nation that is sleep-deprived,” said Mr. Lehrer. “Are there national implications beyond high school, from this kind of study?”

Ms. Wahlstrom replied that she believes there are. She noted a movement among the National Academy of Pediatrics to make the teenage “sleep phase shift” part of parent education efforts in doctors’ offices around the county.

“This is a biological change that all young people – all teenagers in the world – experience," said Ms. Wahlstrom. "It isn’t because these kids are lazy or are trying to be obstructionist. They really cannot fall asleep before 11pm, that is part of the human biology, and as a result, this does have implications for schools across the nation when they are starting at 7 or 7:15 there’s no way the kids are getting 8 hours of sleep.”

Watch the entire segment below. (The segment begins at the 30:00 mark within the show.)