The Ottumwa Courier

September 5, 2013

Let sleeping kids lie

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Don't wake your teenagers up so early in the morning. Let them sleep late — every day.

It may sound like an idea from a student essay entitled, "If I Were in Charge." Actually, the statement came out of Washington, D.C., according to an Associated Press report Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told an interviewer on National Public Radio that his "common sense" tells him teenagers are struggling to wake up early and make it to the buses. He says students who arrive at school rested and ready to learn do better.

Two students who spoke to the Courier after school Wednesday said they're all for the idea.

"I certainly agree with that one," said Bonnie Sullivan, a junior at Ottumwa High School. "Honestly, some students don't get to school on time because they [have trouble] waking up."

"Some kids fall asleep in class," added Katlyn Wagner-Bird, a freshman. "I'm sure that makes their grades lower."

So if the district allowed students to come in a little later?

"I'd definitely take advantage of that!" Bonnie said.

The principal would hate that idea, right?

Not necessarily.

"There have been studies on that for a while now," said Principal Mark Hanson. "I don't think any educator would be fundamentally against starting later. If it would benefit students, it'd be something to look into, just like year-round school would be something to look into, or making the school year longer, 200 days. These are ideas educators [discuss from time to time]."

It's important to note that the secretary's comments about starting high school later so kids can sleep late is not currently under discussion by the Ottumwa Board of Education. Yet telling tired kids to just go to bed earlier may not be the easy answer parents suspect it to be.

Dr. Anthony Komaroff, whose syndicated column "Dr. K" runs in the Ottumwa Courier, wrote recently that teens need nine hours of sleep — but rarely get it. Part of that isn't their fault, he wrote: Their brains have a different internal clock than the brains of adults.

"The clock starts to power down the body at a later hour, and it also starts to power up the body at a later hour," wrote Dr. K. "That's why so many teens have trouble waking up in the morning."

But there are practical reasons letting kids sleep late might not work everywhere.

For one thing, it's hard enough to fit all that needs to be done by students and schools into daylight hours.

"It's not a terrible idea," said Hanson, "but logistically, it would be a challenge. You'd have to work around both academics and extracurricular activities. It could be done, but maybe we'd have to change class times for some students."

Or maybe football practice during those short autumn days would start early in the morning, and school would start later in the morning.

In the Associated Press report, Secretary Duncan admitted a later start time could cause problems with bus schedules but then added that schools are there to serve students, not adults.

When students were asked, they seemed to consider the question realistically: They said that adults in Ottumwa would probably be hesitant to restructure an entire school program or parent job schedules so teenagers could sleep in an extra hour.

"I don't think this district will do it," said Bonnie after thinking for just a moment.

Besides, added Katlyn, "the more hours we are late, the [later] we have to stay there."

"... and," finished Bonnie, "the later they (district employees) have to work and be away from their families."

— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark