Reducing Student Stress
Fifty minutes of extra sleep is not enough.
By: Alissa Grisler, FCHS
To quote Isaac Newton, “What goes up must come down.” What is going up are student stress levels and what is coming down are our chances of staying awake in first period.
Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has long been searching for a solution to the sleep deprivation of high schoolers. This year, they opted to push the start time back 50 minutes. Remarkably, this small decision has caused controversy fueled by parents, students, and even faculty.
FCPS may have been a hair too idealistic when they assumed a later start time would solve this issue. The later start times were supposed to give students more sleep as well as improve academic performance; yet as student responsibilities have not changed within the last year, this notion was at best an optimistic one. The only difference is that after-school activities are starting later, students are getting home later, and that extra time we should be sleeping is instead devoted to our still-substantial workload. While we hoped this would positively impact grades, the progress we sought has yet to reveal itself. In reality, the later start times only wind up discouraging students from participating in extracurriculars, getting a job, and participating in activities outside the school.
The new start times have also wound up impacting commutes county-wide, due to high traffic volumes in the morning. Buses are now on the roads during rush hour, as well as new drivers whose experience dealing with these possibly risky conditions is severely limited. These consequences, albeit unintended, have significantly affected the lives of families and faculty in Fairfax County.
The students of FCPS are aware of the budget issues we have been facing; we can see it every day in our larger class sizes. With the implementation of new start times, FCPS spent $4.9 million, predominately to purchase new buses. As a county accustomed to annual budget cuts, it is hard to fathom why such money would be spent on what now seems an unnecessary expenditure. Were the additional costs really worth it? Was this the best use of our (already limited) funds?
In actuality, the real issue is not the sleep deprivation of high school students, it is the high stress levels which are causing this lack of sleep.
Pushing back start times does not tackle the root of the problem. To quote Taylor Swift, “band aids don’t fix bullet holes,” and later start times will not fix the issue of student sleep deprivation. It merely covers up a serious issue with a feeble attempt at a solution. I get it, dealing with student mental health can be messy. It is a long, difficult process which will not produce instant gratification. However, simply changing start times and expecting an immediate effect is beyond wishful thinking.
We understand Fairfax County is backed into a tight corner. There is no precise formula which will magically solve the issue of student sleep deprivation. Previous attempts have been met with criticism or resistance, and with school district educating over 185,000 students, this is not surprising. So we do applaud them for their valiant effort, but until we can find a way to adequately reduce student stress, we cannot expect an extra 50 minutes to constitute a permanent solution.
We understand Fairfax County is backed into a tight corner. Any endeavor to change the current system will surely incite conflict, yet no action on their part is equally as risky. Previous attempts have been met with criticism and resistance, but with school district educating over 185,000 students, this is not surprising. There is no precise formula which will magically solve the issue of student sleep deprivation. So we do applaud FCPS for their valiant effort, but until we can find a way to adequately reduce student stress, we cannot expect an extra 50 minutes to constitute a permanent solution.
Falls Church High School
7521 Jaguar Trail
Falls Church, VA 22044
(Students who reside on the north side of Annandale attend Falls Church High School)