Sonoma County students, educators debate later start to high school days

  • Santa Rosa High School students, from left, Azlan Monte, Dreena Edillor, Grace Poe, Jessie Irvin, Reyn Warr, and Andrew Barella-Lopez break for lunch, Thursday Sept. 5, 2013 in Santa Rosa. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan suggests that schools should start their days later in the morning to let teenagers sleep later and come to school more refreshed. The group of kids were divided on when school should start. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

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.

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