Sleep on it

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I’m here because my daughter stayed up until 3 a.m. last night doing work.”

The mother sits down and another FUHSD parent stands up in the Homestead High School cafeteria to tell a group of parents, teachers, district workers and a few students their story. Since late 2015, the Community Wellness Taskforce (CWT), a cross section of the FUHSD community, has been trying to address sleep deprivation and high stress levels among students.

Photo illustration by Ilena Peng

Photo illustration by Ilena Peng

Though the Taskforce received multiple suggestions on how to fight sleep deprivation, from developing a more effective and mandatory time management worksheet to limiting the number of AP classes a student can take, the Taskforce has decided to hone in on one idea: later start times.

That’s what the forum at the HHS’s cafeteria on March 14 was for. Since December 2015, when the CWT first proposed later start times to the FUHSD superintendent, they gauged community interest to see the extent to which students, teachers and parents wanted later start times.

The first step was the Student Wellness Survey, which was administered in September 2016 through email to students across the district. Despite complaints at the community forum that not enough students responded to the survey, results showed that a majority of students favored later start times, with about 30 percent of students getting an average of six hours of sleep per night and 36 percent of students reporting that they regularly go to bed past midnight.

Backed by results that supported their plan to institute later start times, the CWT proceeded to hold two community forums on March 2 and March 14, where they were able to gauge the opinions of parents, students and community members. From the forums and surveys, the CWT thought of three potential ideas to create later start times: a shortened lunch, brunch before school or more available free first periods.

“I think [changing the start time]is the thing we must do as soon as possible,” senior Patrick Yeung said.

Assistant superintendent Trudy Gross is a proponent of making a free first more accessible to students. Gross thinks that if all of the schools in the district can ensure that students can easily get a free first period, it would benefit both the student and the family. To Gross, pushing back start times seems to be controversial with students and parents, who do not want extracurricular activities to run later because of a later school start. By providing easy access to having a free first, there is a balance between providing that later start time and still having school end at the same time, so students can arrive at their after school appointments in a timely manner.

“I definitely hear the side for families and for students too, because many of the students do talk about [how]they want a seven period day, [that]they’re comfortable with the way that it is and [that]they have lots of things after school,” Gross said. “[The students] would be worried about how they are going to get where they’re getting.”

Gross thinks this is the best proposal, as compared to other ideas such as moving brunch to before school. Eleven percent of students in the district get two meals at school, which makes this change more complex.

“It’s not as simple as saying, ‘Well, they could eat breakfast before they leave for school.’ There are students that get breakfast and lunch here at school. And so, if we were to say, ‘Well, they could come and have breakfast,’ then, is that a good balance?” Gross said. “Because you’re basically saying they would still have to come to school earlier to get that food.”

Senior Patrick Yeung is the only MVHS student on the CWT. He believes that change is necessary and has to happen now. The contract between the teacher’s union and the district is rewritten every three years, and 2017 is one of those renewal years. The CWT has accelerated their schedule significantly because of this, trying to get later start times included in the contract.

“I think [changing the start time]is the thing we must do as soon as possible,” Yeung said. “In the past year, we’ve done nothing. But then all of a sudden, this year, as soon as January hit, we’ve hit the ground running.”

Yeung thinks that if later start times don’t get approved this year, they have to be approved three years from now. However, he fears that if it is still up for discussion in three years, the CWT will have moved on to other problems, such as its other two goals creating a school-life balance in terms of stress and in terms of emotional wellness. Yeung believes that the CWT’s main goal should be to bring about a district-wide movement to benefit as many people as possible.

Yeung, Gross and the CWT are all striving to focus their efforts into one area at a time in order to capitalize on the prime moment for reform. There are many other areas of wellness that the CWT plans to address in the future, like mental health or the meaningfulness of homework. But, for now, the organization’s main focus will be on sleep deprivation.  

“I feel like it’s a really simplified way of expressing the complexity of the issue. You need to define wellness somehow, and [this is]a sort of decent way of doing it, but then [the definitions]overlap, and the way that the Taskforce is going about it now is, we’re tackling just sleep deprivation,” Yeung said. “And the whole notion that simply a time shift will work it’s been scientifically proven to work to some degree, but whether or not it will work here, I do not know.”

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About Author

Anjini Venugopal is a first-year staff writer for El Estoque. She writes for the opinion section and is passionate about books, photography and museums. She previously wrote for the sports section.