California Legislature Inspires Conversations About Time at SHP

  • Maya Moffat ’23

On October 13, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law SB-328 barring all public high schools from starting before 8:30 AM. The law was enacted on the premise that student mental health has been negatively affected by early start times and a lack of sleep for students across the state. Although the law does not directly affect SHP since it is a private school, it poses the question both to students and faculty as to whether our school should start later. While the law was passed only recently, SHP Principal Dr. Jennie Whitcomb says that “We as a school were already having conversations about how we allocate time. Are we doing so in a way that works best for kids, and for the adults?… I see this as an opportunity, [and] the law gives us a little outside juice to get it done.”

While there are multiple reasons why the law was passed, the most worrying and immediate is the problem of student sleep and its effect on mental health. Various studies show that adolescents should ideally get at least nine hours of sleep every night, but this is a number that barely 9% of American students are able to achieve. The issue of sleep does not improve as time progresses either. In fact, some people say that student’s sleep decreases as they go through high school. While many people understand that sleep is important, most don’t realize quite why. During adolescence, scientists have shown that every hour of sleep lost can lead to both a 38% increase in one’s chances for anxiety and depression and a 58% increase in suicide risks.

These statistics are problematic. Ms. Laura Stoll, director of advising at SHP, says that “There is definitely information that suggests that during adolescence… it is literally harder for the teenage brain to go to sleep earlier. A late start time can help offset that biological reality.” With the current early start times, it is harder for students across the country to get the amount of sleep necessary to be productive. Although workloads may affect the hour at which people go to sleep, there are also many other factors that need to be taken into account, including the fact that adolescent’s brains actually want to go to sleep later. 

In accordance with this, the administration has recently been considering modifications to the schedule. Dr. Whitcomb explains that “We’re not just going to pick up the schedule and move it 40 minutes later…. If kids need to sleep more, they may have to do something differently in their day.” The schedule is not being moved just to please the new restrictions placed on public schools, but rather to make the day better and more effective for students. Sadly, this may require giving up some other activities, or extracurriculars.

Regardless, we are still at the very beginning of these schedule conversations, and it is unsure what the outcome will be. The process will most likely take a long time. Dr. Whitcomb anticipates that this is because “it will take us a while to really listen deeply and carefully across the community. We need to make sure we really understand what the challenges, obstacles, and problems are, with regard to how we currently allocate our time. After we do that, we will then come up with some different ways we might respond to the problems.” Even though this is a current problem, the school intends to really take on the problems and make a reasonable solution that works for everyone to hopefully solve them.

Although the school may be a while from making a decision, Dr. Whitcomb confirmed that students would have some say throughout the process. Many students have already started to formulate their opinions on the subject. Tom Rohlen ‘20 agrees that moving the scheduled start time is a good idea, saying “I get back [from school] at the earliest at 8:45, so most of my time studying [is] late into the night. I feel like that is pretty similar to most other kids my age, so that extra little time in the morning is so useful.” Late Start Wednesday is a small step toward this goal of giving students more time in the morning, but they are only one day per week and do not add significant sleep, especially for those who commute. Rohlen reflects back to when late start began at 9:50, saying that although the day was a grind, he “felt so refreshed, just having that weight off my shoulders on Tuesday night.”

Hopefully, students and faculty alike will be able to express their opinions and make a change beneficial for the whole school. The school has to think not only about how students can get more sleep, but also about how we can be more effective in spending our time. Dr. Whitcomb sees this as “a chance for us to think about time not as if we are going to spend every minute like we spend it now, but to be creative. We might think about putting some things together, we may say we will have to make choices, or you can’t do everything you’re trying to do.” This is not a grudging task, but a chance for our school to reimagine how we can effectively spend our time and use our schedule.

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By Axel de Vernou

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