Doctors recommend later school start time for teens; Hickman Mills makes change this year

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A major doctors' group is recommending that middle and high schools not start class before 8:30 a.m. The American Academy of Pediatrics says a later start can boost academic performance and also improve physical and mental health.

Kristal Whitaker, a senior at Ruskin High School, recalled her junior year.

"I'd go to sleep like one o'clock because of homework and everything," said Whitaker.

That's 1 a.m. Then classes would start at 7:20 a.m.

Daniel Anderson, also a Ruskin senior, said it was hard to stay awake in class.

"Oh, yes.  Like last year, teachers called home all the time 'cause I slept all the time," said Anderson.

Both teens think that won't be a problem this year.  The Hickman Mills School District has moved the start time to 8:30 for middle and high schoolers.

"We did it for a lot of different reasons, but primarily we did it because the research says it's what's best for students," said Dr. Carl Skinner, Deputy Superintendent.

Most schools in the Kansas City metro still have teens in class long before 8:30.  But that could change.  On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued its first policy statement on the subject.  It recommends a start time of 8:30 a.m. or later for all middle and high schools.  The pediatricians say teens' natural sleep cycles can make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m.  They need eight and a half to nine and a half hours of shuteye yet the vast majority doesn’t get that much.

The pediatricians say sleep-deprived teens are more likely to be overweight and have behavioral problems including depression.  They're also more likely to be in car crashes, and they're less likely to get good grades.  Those are some of the reasons Hickman Mills made the change.

"They're gonna get higher grades. They're gonna have less behavior problems," said Dr. Skinner.

The pediatricians note that extracurricular activities, homework, jobs and technology can still keep kids up late.  Parents need to set limits.

Anderson said he's setting his own limits, too. He said the later school start is making a difference early in this school year.

"I'm no longer sleeping in class.  I no longer drink coffee either.  It helps a lot," he said.

Jesse Rivers, Ruskin's principal, said he's also noticed that teachers are "a little more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed."