On a chilly December evening, Flynn Klace ’19 arrived home at around 9 p.m. after a hard game of soccer. Exhausted from her game and long round-trip drive to Norco, California, Klace stayed up until 1:30 a.m. to finish her homework before waking up at 6:30 a.m. the next day.
Although school was cancelled the next day due to the Skirball fires, Klace said this timing is not uncommon for away games and waking up to get to school early strains her sleep and work schedule.
“By eighth period, I’m usually about to fall asleep in class and you just finally can’t focus towards the end of the day,” Klace said.
Klace is not alone. In a Chronicle poll of 265 students , 91 percent of respondents said the current school schedule affects their sleep schedule. Of those students, 95 percent said the school’s 8 a.m. start time negatively affects the amount of sleep they got per night, and 79 percent of students polled said they would support a later start time.
Head of Upper School Laura Ross said she is looking into the possibility of changing the schedule. Ross said the school is going to try out a few late start days with a block schedule, where only four out of eight classes will meet. On those days, there will be no morning lifts for athletic teams, she said.
Rachel Grode ’19 said she thinks she would get more sleep from a later start.
“I know personally once I hit a certain time mark in the night, my work isn’t productive anymore and I need to go to sleep,” Grode said.
Grode said she would rather get extra time in the morning to sleep.
Some students participate in extracurriculars that would not change if the Harvard-Westlake start time was moved later.
Luke Rowen ’19 said that morning practices for his club swim team start at 5:30 a.m. every day and involve students from other schools, meaning he would still need to wake up early. Rowen said that the extra hour of sleep on days without practice would be nice but would have little impact overall.
“I think that if we had a later start and everything was shifted over an hour, then my schedule would just shift an hour over,” Rowen said.
For sports players who already miss school for meets and games, excuse times could potentially mean missing more school.
Jack Nordstrom ’19, a volleyball player, said that he could see a later start benefiting teams by allowing for more morning practices.
“I feel like a later start would help teams because there’s a lot of competition over gyms,” Nordstrom said. “If they have a later start they could definitely use that to their advantage and do more morning practices.”
While students could benefit from extra sleep or the extra time for their sports commitments, traffic concerns could negate any real benefits. Almost 90 percent of respondents in a Chronicle poll of 220 students said that they would struggle to get to school at a later time because of traffic.
President Rick Commons said a late start would potentially be impractical because of traffic.
“The obvious negative is traffic,” Commons said. “As a commuter myself, I know that when I leave my home at seven or a little after, the commute is half of what it is if I leave my home at eight or a little after. That has been the reason that we have not pursued more aggressively the path that some schools have with regards to later starts. We have so many buses going all over the city. As it is the rides on those buses are anywhere between 30 minutes and 90 minutes for our students and we don’t want to double that to 60 minutes and 180 minutes. That’s just untenable.”
At Campbell Hall, the administration has embraced a late start. Students start school at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesdays and 8:50 a.m. on other days of the week, ending school at 3:40 p.m. everyday. High School Principal Carolyn Lagaly sent the proposal to the school in an all-community letter in March 2011. It included a new block schedule and differences in the grading calendar as well the changes to the start time.
“The question became: could we develop a daily schedule that would allow our secondary students to begin their academic day slightly later while providing us opportunities to continue enhancing the academic rigor of our program?” Lagaly said in the letter. “Could we, in addition, have one day of an even later start at 9:30 a.m., allowing students to sleep in, make personal appointments, have breakfast with their families and maybe even practice sports, which also seems to help adolescents focus better throughout the day? Could this be accomplished without drastically extending the school day? The answer was a resounding ‘yes.’”
Campbell Hall sophomore Bryce Jacobs said that the late start is overwhelmingly beneficial, and other schools have embraced some type of middle ground.
At Marlborough, classes begin on Wednesdays at 8:30 a.m. while keeping a regular start on other days of the week and ending school the same time every day.
Marlborough junior Arien Afshar said that while she didn’t personally benefit much from the policy, she thinks others do.
“Since I live so far from school I have to get up really early anyway but I think that for people who live near school they probably benefit quite a bit because they can sleep in a lot later,” Afshar said.
Despite obstacles in implementing an earlier start time, The Atlantic reported that research suggests adolescents struggle more than other age groups to fall asleep earlier in the evening. Therefore, early start times make it more difficult for students to achieve the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night. The article also cited a study from Brown University showing that sophomores making a switch to an earlier start time fell asleep at the same time on average, 10:40 p.m. This suggests that a different start time didn’t affect what time they fell asleep, and they would therefore get more sleep on the later start time.
Commons said the research surrounding adolescent sleep patterns was a strong pull toward a later start.
“I have heard from other school heads about the success of starting later and giving students a chance for extra sleep because, whether we like it or not, the science shows us that adolescents physiologically tend to go to bed later and sleep later, so accommodating that tendency among adolescents would seem to be a real positive in considering a later start,” Commons said.