Dear Parents and Guardians,
Welcome to the start of a new year, and a new decade! Let these new starts offer us the excitement of new opportunities, and good health in which to enjoy them!
We eagerly anticipate the opening of a brand new school building with a new grade level configuration in September of 2020. As we get ready to say goodbye to the existing Enfield Elementary School building, we are also excited to be finalizing the plans for packing up and moving into our new school. Administrators have been selecting furniture for staff and student classrooms and offices, teachers have begun purging old materials and packing up current supplies and texts, and decisions are being made on an almost daily basis about moving out and moving in. Simultaneously, our board members and administrators are planning for the demolition of the existing school and the construction of new, sorely needed athletic fields for the middle school sports teams and the township.
At the high school, we have now opened our new auxiliary gym, our new fitness center, our new team room, our new locker and toilet facilities, new athletic fields, and our new TV studio. Our Hall of Fame entrance is in its final cleanup stage, and is making its debut as a new entrance into the athletic area of the school. All of these changes have required long hours of planning and meetings with engineers, architects, and contractors, and considerable patience on the part of the staff and students who have had to endure dust, dirt, and cattle chutes directing them to different parts of the building and sports fields during construction.
In addition to physical improvements to our buildings, we are in the midst of examining another potential improvement in our school schedules. Like other districts in the four county region, we have begun the investigation into the need for changing our school start times at the secondary level. The interest in a change to start times has arisen from considerable national research in the field of adolescent sleep needs. The extensive research, as well as increased interest in the physiological needs of adolescents, prompted Pennsylvania Senate Resolution 417, which created a Joint State Government Commission which studied this topic across the state and issued their findings this past fall.
At issue is the increasing knowledge that adolescents are not getting the sleep that they need to function optimally in the classroom and on the athletic field. Sleep science tells us that as children move into adolescence after the onset of puberty, they fall asleep and awaken at later times due to a shift in their circadian rhythm. During adolescence, children begin to produce melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone, after 11:00 p.m., with their body having peak melatonin levels at around 4:00 a.m. This causes them to not begin to feel sleepy until sometime after 11:00 p.m., which helps to explain why so many teens are wide awake until long after 11:00 p.m. This means that by the time they do fall asleep, many are getting only 6.5 to 7 hours of sleep, or less, instead of the widely recommended bare minimum of 8 hours their bodies need. It also means that we are requiring teens to wake up sometime around 6:00 a.m., when for most of them, this is exactly the time when they are in the middle of their deepest sleep cycle of the night. Being awakened at this time deprives them, and their brains, of greatly needed restorative sleep, and over time, leads to chronic sleep deprivation.
The impact of this chronic sleep deprivation, according to researchers, is varied but concerning. Research has shown that teens have a larger incidence of morning driving accidents, increased tardiness to school, increased absences from school, more concerning mental health issues, less engagement and alertness in class, more nodding off and distracted behaviors in class, and more fatigue in athletic practices and contests. All of these factors also contribute to decreased academic performance for many students.
As a result of these findings, many researchers in the field of sleep science are recommending that secondary schools consider changing to a later starting time in the morning, generally by increasing that time by anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour. This can be accomplished via varied methods, including flipping the starting times of elementary vs. secondary schedules, changing the high and middle school starting and ending times, examining the current schedules to see if modifications can be made to generate more time for starting later, and so on. To do this, we must consider the many implications of each of these and other options, including the potential impact on parent/staff member work schedules and child care arrangements, after school activities and timing, transportation schedule adjustments, and even cost to the district. This must all balanced with our overall and fundamental concerns over our students and their physical and mental health needs.
As we move towards a more intensive study of the implications of this research for our district, we will be looking to some of our neighbors and their experiences and insights after having already made this change. This includes the Unionville-Chaddsford School District, the Radnor School District, and the Phoenixville School District. We have already had the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services survey our Springfield students at the middle and the high school about their sleep patterns, and we have also discussed this issue with our secondary staff. Please also take a look at the recent December presentation by noted sleep researcher Dr. Wendy Troxel, on the main page of our website at:
We plan to shortly survey our families as well, as a prelude to a deeper conversation about the potential for change. Please watch for our newest Thought Exchange survey and plan on participating to let us know your thoughts on this topic! Finally, we know that this is a complex issue with complex challenges to explore and discuss. Each of our districts is unique and has its own variables which will help to determine a final recommendation. But we are committed to exploring all facets of this issue, and engaging our community, staff, and students before making any recommendations for a final decision. I hope you will participate and lend your voice to these discussions!
Happy New Year!
Dr. Nancy M. Hacker