Parents seek cure for school
Parents learn early starting times affecting families
by Rhonda Stewart,
Boston Globe Staff Correspondent,
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Robin Mosgrove could use some more time.
In the Needham home she shares with her husband, Peter, and
their four children, who range in age from 6 to 17, the
morning rush is a relay to accommodate four different school
starting times. The Mosgroves rise at 6 a.m., and the next two
hours are filled with a host of tasks, including eating
breakfast, preparing five lunches, signing permission slips,
and looking for lost shoes.
''If there was any way to have the kids go any later, I think
it would help,'' Mosgrove said. ''I'm observing and finding as
I talk to people casually that I'm not alone.''
Mosgrove is one of 16 members on the School Starting Time
Committee, a group convened this fall by Needham
Superintendent of Schools Stephen J. Theall to study whether
starting times at the elementary, middle, and high schools
should be changed. Currently, middle school students start
school at 7:40 a.m., high school students at 7:45 and
elementary school students at 8:30 or 9.
''Every other parent and every high school child I've talked
to in a week's time agreed and said that it makes sense,''
Mosgrove said. ''If in fact they find it's better for kids'
learning, that's the main thing. I think it's absolutely worth
Mosgrove said her family's morning schedule is especially hard
on 17-year-old Cameron, who plays sports throughout the year
and referees soccer games on weekends. This year he's also
starting to look at colleges.
But aside from a busy schedule, there are physiological
reasons why it's more difficult for the high school junior to
start his day early than it is for his younger siblings,
according to researcher Kyla Wahlstrom. In teenagers, she
said, the hormone melatonin, which induces sleepiness, is
secreted in the body just before 11 p.m. and stays in the
system until 8 a.m.
''It's a matter of human biology,'' said Wahlstrom, associate
director of the Center for Applied Research and Educational
Improvement at the University of Minnesota. ''When kids get up
at 6 to get on a bus at 7, the brain, in terms of its internal
clock, is still in sleep mode.''
Wahlstrom has studied the results after a school district in
Edina, Minn., a Minneapolis suburb, was among the first in the
country to change its school starting times six years ago from
7:25 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. In 1997, the entire Minneapolis public
school system followed suit. Administrators told Wahlstrom
there was ''a significant improvement in the general tenor of
the entire building,'' thanks to students who were more alert
and engaged in classroom discussions. Outside the classroom,
there was less disruptive behavior in the hallways and
lunchroom. Wahlstrom said that in preliminary findings there
was some slight overall increase in students' grade-point
averages, and in Minneapolis the dropout rate was