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Terry Zavala says fatigue is a near-constant for a busy high school student and it affects her in different ways throughout her day.

"In the morning it gets a little bit hard because you are still in a groggy state," the Santa Rosa High School junior said of her 8 a.m. class start. "But I think I'm more tired at the end of the day."

That fatigue can be debilitating for high school students, says Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who this week renewed his push for a later start to the high school day.

"Common sense to improve student achievement that too few have implemented: let teens sleep more, start school later," Duncan wrote on Twitter Aug. 20.

Duncan followed that call this week by citing in interviews studies that say teens' brains demand more sleep to operate optimally and that a later school start for high schoolers would help students perform.

For generations, the high school day has typically started at about 8 a.m. Some high schools even offer a "zero period," an even earlier start to allow students to take an extra class during their day.

Pushing the start time from a typical 8 a.m. bell to 9 a.m. or even 10 a.m. could have what Maria Carrillo High School Principal Rand Van Dyke called a "cascading effect" on the rest of the students' day — and that or their families.

Sports schedules and other extra-curricular activities would push into the hours of darkness and students would not get home until well into the evening, some principals said.

"I think if we didn't start when we start, that kids would be getting home at such a late time they would never see their family," said Cloverdale High School Principal Theresa Burke.

Geyserville's Katherine Hadden agreed.

"It would be such a long evening for them," said Hadden, who is principal of both Geyserville High School and middle school — two schools that sometimes share athletic facilities and must coordinate practice times.

"And working around the bus schedule," she said. "We are so rural. Some kids live quite a ways out."

But principals, whether they agreed with the call for a later start time or not, said teenage fatigue is real and that administrators and teachers have different strategies for addressing it.

When creating the class schedule for the year, Hadden said she tries to avoid putting academic classes in the last slot of the day — preferring instead to book physical education, art and music at that hour.

"By then, they are kind of done," she said. "It's the seventh period teacher who kind of sees them dragging."

Late night Facebook chatting, video games or a lack of discipline aren't the culprits in students' daytime lethargy, said Dr. Leland Davis, a pediatrician with Sutter Medical Group of the Redwoods.

Teenagers have their own biorhythms that pushes their bodies to need later bed times and later waking hours, Davis said.

Remember great uncle Larry, the 80-year-old who ate dinner at 4:30 p.m. and was in bed by 7 p.m.? Teenagers have an equally strong biorhythm that pulls them in the opposite direction, Davis said.

"It's not simply a lifestyle," he said. "They are going to stay up late because they are made to do that, so if they are then made to get up, they are going to be groggy," he said. "It's not just a teenage rebellion thing."

Puberty exacerbates the fatigue, he said.

That growth period "does take energy. It uses up calories and energy."

Piner High School freshman Juan Oseguera said he's often tired during the day after staying up late at night, whether it's because of school work or family commitments.

"Sometimes when you get a lot of homework you have to stay up late," he said. "Or if you go someplace with your family and you can't bring it with you."

Santa Rosa High junior Vanessa Virelas said she is "tired all the time."

She rises at 6 a.m. to ready herself and catch a 7:20 a.m. bus to school. A later start would help, she said.

"I would probably get more (sleep)," she said. "Then I'd not feel like I'm falling asleep if the teacher is giving a lesson."

Advocates for a later start say that sleep is just as important as diet and exercise for young people. A recent study by Auburn University's College of Education found that lack of sleep affects students' performance on standardized tests, grades and behavior.

Student fatigue can affect how teachers go about their day, said Mark Wardlaw, a veteran music teacher at Santa Rosa High.

"The pros of starting school later is there is no question that a lot of kids come to school just not ready," he said. "They are simply not functioning."

But Wardlaw said it's clear that the school day is likely what drives schedules across the spectrum — starting later would leave working parents in a bind and infringe on a family's dinner hour.

"It's entirely possible that our whole cycle of how we do things at school and home revolves around the school schedule," he said.

Casa Grande High School Principal Linda Scheele said she welcomes the conversation about a schedule change, but pointed to all of the school programs that are offered after school — namely an athletic program that draws about half of all Gauchos onto one team or another.

"Are sports the most important thing? Absolutely not, but we have about half of our student body participating in sports," she said. "Being in a team sport is a positive thing for many students."

And early starts do not turn all students off. At Casa, about 400 students are enrolled in one of 13 so-called zero period classes that begin at 7:20 a.m.

Still, Scheele said conversations about a potential change could be fruitful.

"Why wouldn't we look at that? If we think it could benefit kids, why wouldn't we talk about it?" she said. "You don't lose anything by talking about it."

(Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press democrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.)

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