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Last Updated: 02/01/2018

 Article of Interest - Education Reform

Parents seek cure for school daze
Parents learn early starting times affecting families
by Rhonda Stewart, Boston Globe Staff Correspondent, 11/3/2002

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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 the debate.''

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 significantly reduced.

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