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A U.S. high school’s policy of late-morning start time might offer insights on how to improve students’ mental health

A later start to a school day might be the key to improving students’ mental health.

Upper Darby High School in the state of Pennsylvania recently implemented a policy where the start of classes on campus is changed from 7:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. The objective of the policy is to ease students’ strains.

Khalid Doulat, a senior, told the Associated Press that he now has time for prayers, helping his mother, or training in the tracking field. Due to the new policy, he now feels more lively than before.

“I’ll be honest, I’ve been much happier in the mornings,” said Doulat.

“I’ve been more positive, and I’ve come to school smiling more rather than, you know, grudging out of bed and stuff like that at 7:30,” he added.

The policy of switching the start time of classes to a later hour has been given a new goal. The first plan is to help teenagers get more sleep. But the new goal for the policy right now is to mitigate the mental health crisis that is faced by teens across the U.S.A.

Before even the COVID-19 pandemic came, Upper Darby initiated an experimental policy of later start times for classes in 2019. This year, distance learning became a component of the school day.

Upper Darby Superintendent Daniel McGarry claims that there are students who have dealt with mental health struggles after officials observed a decline in the latter’s respect for teachers’ authority in the classroom.

“We had a lot of those things that we were facing and we’re still working our way through it; we’re in a much better place,” McGarry said. “I think our kids feel better. They’re not 100% better.” But, he said, the social anxiety that the students felt after being in online school has mitigated.

High school students who are feeling sad and hopeless, especially girls and LGBTQ+ youth, are reported to have high levels of poor mental health and suicide attempts during the pandemic.

Orfeu Buxton, the director of the Sleep, Health, and Society Collaboratory at Penn State University, claims that the absence of sleep worsens the mental health challenges that teens are facing.

“These mental health challenges are already going to happen and then, with the absence of sleep, are much worse,” said Buxton.  “The same with decision making, suicidal ideation, those kinds of things.”

According to the National Conference on State Legislatures, nine states in the U.S. are calling for legislation relating to the start time of classes. Back in 2019, the state of California dictated school start times instead of following the usual 7:30 a.m. start. Large school systems, including Philadelphia, Denver, and Anchorage, Alaska, are considering following suit.

The start of school day at Upper Darby High still starts at 7:30 a.m., scheduled for submissions of students’ coursework that was done remotely. Those early morning hours are used by students either to meet with their teachers, sleep in more, or finish homework.

Elise Omstead, a junior, thinks that getting more hours of sleep is useful for the day.

“I think getting more sleep is definitely helping,” said Omstead. ” I would be more irritable throughout the day, especially later, because I have a lot of after-school things. I would just have a harder time getting through the day.”

Darby High’s principal, Matthew Alloway, claims that educators notice the number of students sleeping in class is getting lower. He also said that students only come to the campus if they are needed on time due to the changes in schedule.

It was not only the students who benefited from the schedule changes. The early morning period gave the educators time to also take care of themselves and their families. Administrators did also benefit, as it gave them time to replace staffers who would be absent for the day.


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