Fairfax County Public Schools Should Start Virtual Learning Later in the Day
Fairfax County Public Schools Should Start Virtual Learning Later in the Day
Chloe Kowalczyk, Hazel Calway
Cooper Middle School, Grade 8
Fairfax County Public Schools Should Start Middle SchoolVirtual Learning Later in the Day
Data gathered from the Fairfax County Youth Survey states, “Only 3% of FCPS teens get the recommended 9 hours of sleep per night” (Winsler). Not getting the amount of sleep you need can affect you in many harmful ways. According to multiple resources, melatonin (the chemical your brain releases to fall asleep) is released later in teens than children and adults releasing from 11 pm- 8 am, meaning teens will often go to bed late and get up late. Therefore, FCPS online learning should start at 8:30 am because lack of sleep is linked to emotional instability, issues with the immune system, poor academics, stunted development, and because of the average time melatonin is released in teens.
The lack of sleep caused by the current early online middle school start times in FCPS will cause emotional instability in students. When Adam Winsler, a George Mason University (GMU) professor, looked at data from the Fairfax County Youth Survey, he determined that “each hour of sleep lost was associated with a 38-percent increase in feelings of sadness and hopelessness among teens, a 23-percent increase in substance abuse, a 42-percent increase in suicidal thoughts and a 58-percent increase in actual suicide attempts” (Cruise). Based on this information, it’s easy to conclude that lack of sleep is taxing on emotional stability. Considering that most teens already suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts, raising the probability of these would be unwise. An article by the National Institute of Health (NIH) stated that “A large body of research supports the connection between sleep deprivation and mood changes such as increased anger and aggression. Individuals who get an adequate amount of sleep each night exhibit fewer emotional outbursts, such as anger, and display fewer aggressive behaviors” (Muacevic Adler). Lack of sleep can cause students to have increased anger and aggression. These are behaviors that can disrupt the classroom and a student’s home life. Therefore, it would make sense to do everything we can to avoid causing additional reasons for anger and aggressive behavior in middle schoolers. In addition, another article from NIH states that “Children and teens who are sleep deficient may have problems getting along with others. They may feel angry and impulsive, have mood swings, feel sad or depressed, or lack motivation. They also may have problems paying attention, and they may get lower grades and feel stressed” (NIH). Motivativation, paying attention, and getting along with others are all things that people (students, teachers, and all staff) need in school. FCPS has stated that their “portrait of a graduate” (POG) skills are important for all students; POG skills such as communication, collaboration, goal-directiveness, and resilience. These skills are necessary for everyday life but sleep deprivation makes it extremely difficult to continue learning and practicing these skills. If you have a hard time getting along with others, it is really hard to communicate and collaborate. Considering that with not enough sleep you can lack these fundamental skills, it would make sense to try to build a schedule that allows for students to get the recommended amount of sleep. Thus, FCPS online middle school should start later in the day to improve student emotional stability.
Furthermore, FCPS should start online middle school later in the day because sleep loss results in issues with the immune system’s response and overall health. A study done by Europe PubMed Central (PMC) shows the effects of an insufficient amount of sleep on the immune system stating, “Being caused by sleep dysfunction or being exacerbated by sleep disruption. These disorders include infectious diseases, fibromyalgia, cancers, and major depressive disorder” (Rodgers, Szucba, Staab, Evans, and Dinges).
Due to this information, it is evident that when teens are deprived of sleep, they have a harder time fighting off infections and viruses. Sleep deprivation causes a never-ending cycle of health issues because when people are exposed to an illness, they find it hard to fall asleep which then can cause a heightened risk for a virus, repeating the cycle. In a time where school buildings are closed due to a global pandemic, student immune systems and student physical health are imperative and should continue to be at the forefront of all FCPS decisions. Lack of sleep can also harm your overall health. As an article from NIH stated, “Sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke” (NIH). Based on this information, it is clear that school start times of 7:30 am are detrimental to a student’s health because of the lack of sleep that is likely to occur. This means that devastating diseases and viruses are easier to acquire. Thus, FCPS’s online school should start later in the day because otherwise, our immune systems will have a harder time fighting off new viruses such as COVID-19.
In addition, FCPS online middle school should start later in the day to improve students' academic performance. An article about sleep deprivation from NIH states, “Studies show that a good night's sleep improves learning. Whether you're learning math, how to play the piano, how to perfect your golf swing, or how to drive a car, sleep helps enhance your learning and problem-solving skills. Sleep also helps you pay attention, make decisions, and be creative”(NIH). Problem-solving skills are what allow students to be critical and creative thinkers; this is a crucial part of the learning process. Since problem-solving skills, and thus the POG skill of critical and creative thinking, is improved with sleep, it would be logical to try and get as much sleep as possible. This information also conveys the message that early start times make it more difficult to pay attention in class. Since sleep can also enhance your learning, you are more likely to perform better on tests and soak up more information. Sandy Evans, a former FCPS school board member, stated when talking about a later start time that“It is beneficial to their [student] physical health, their mental health, and their academic health” (Evans). Since physical, mental, and academic health are huge aspects of a teenager's life, it makes sense to keep these at the forefront of FCPS decisions. Another expert, Colby college economist Finley Edwards, conducted a study in which he studied the connections of sleep and academic performance: “Edwards released his findings to Harvard journal ‘Education Next,’ which showed that later start times promote more sleep and significantly higher test scores. Middle school students in Wake County improved standardized test scores 2.2 points in math and 1.5 points in reading with a start time one hour later” (Edwards). This shows that later start times increase academic performance tremendously; also showing that students can remain more focused in school and do much better not just on exams but in classes too. Therefore, FCPS online middle school should start online middle school later to improve students’ academic performance.
Sleep deprivation caused by early school start times can also cause stunted growth. A study done by Kids Health.org provides information about why growth is sometimes stunted because of a lack of sleep: “That's because growth hormone is normally released during sleep. If someone consistently gets too little sleep (known as "sleep deprivation"), growth hormone is suppressed” (Dowshen 3). Based on this evidence, it is wise to conclude that since middle school students are in a period of rapid growth, we should want them to be able to have an adequate amount of sleep per night. This also proves that early online school start times will allow for consistent amounts of little sleep which will negatively impact the physical well-being of our students. NIH also explains that a loss of sleep causes harmful effects in later life: “Sleep also supports healthy growth and development. Deep sleep triggers the body to release the hormone that promotes normal growth in children and teens. This hormone also boosts muscle mass and helps repair cells and tissues in children, teens, and adults. Sleep also plays a role in puberty and fertility” (NIH). Early school start times can be pernicious in a teen’s health and can cause severely stunted growth. Based on this information, we can conclude that both muscle mass and growth are vital for later life so it would be short-sighted to continue these early start times. We have an opportunity to allow students to sleep and learn without the difficulties of bus routes, after-school sporting events, and more that force school start times to be early in the day. Thus, FCPS middle schools should start later in the day to prevent stunted development in teens.
FCPS online middle school should start at 8:30 am due to when melatonin is released in teens. According to an article on Kids Health, “During adolescence, the body's circadian rhythm (an internal biological clock) is reset, telling a teen to fall asleep later at night and wake up later in the morning. This change in the circadian rhythm seems to be due to the fact that the brain hormone melatonin is produced later at night in teens than it is for kids and adults” (Kidshealth). From this information, you can gather that it is not, in fact, the teenager's fault if they cannot go to sleep early. Melatonin is the chemical that is released in your brain so that you can fall asleep. The Circadian Rhythm is the natural cycle that controls when you sleep and wake up. Since melatonin in teenagers releases later in the night, it makes it hard to fall asleep early. Therefore, they wake up later than adults naturally. In an article on public school review, Grace Chen states that “numerous studies by the group have found that melatonin, the sleep-inducing chemical in the brain, is secreted in teens between the hours of 11 p.m. and 8 a.m. This means that teenagers that sleep the most during these hours will feel the most alert throughout the school day“(Chen). With middle school starting at 7:30 am most students will get up before 7 am. To get the recommended 9 hours of sleep, students would need to go to bed at 10 pm. Falling asleep at 10 pm is difficult for most teens due to their melatonin production and natural circadian rhythm. Since melatonin is released from 11 pm to 8 am for students to get the full 9 hours of sleep a day online, middle school should start at 8:30 am. Also, students being alert is extremely important to the learning process meaning we must acknowledge this problem and use what we know to inform our decisions. So, FCPS online middle schools should start later to accommodate teenager’s melatonin production and circadian rhythm.
In conclusion, sleep deprivation is especially pernicious in teens, causing many detrimental effects on many aspects of a teenager’s life. Given this information, FCPS schools should start school later in the day because many studies show that it can improve emotional stability, overall physical health, academic performance, developmental health, and line up with a teenager’s melatonin and circadian rhythm. If we continue these early school start times, it will have unfortunate consequences such as emotional instability causing rises in depression and suicide, lowered immune capability to fight off infectious diseases, academic performance levels dropping, and developmental delay. Thus proving that to maintain these basic aspects of life, we must insist that online middle schools start at 8:30 am. Please sign our petition to make your voice heard. We can all make a difference. To open our google doc click here.
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