Later start times are now a permanent at Teton County schools.
At the Oct. 8 meeting of the Teton County School Board, members voted to maintain an 8:55 a.m. start for Jackson Hole High School. That is 80 minutes later than the 2011-12 academic year’s 7:35 a.m. starting bell.
For the past two years Jackson Hole High School participated in a University of Minnesota experiment to measure the effects of later start times.
The study measured tardiness, GPA fluctuation, car crashes involving high school drivers, bedtimes and wake times, drowsiness in class and while driving, emotional and physical well-being and reports of depression.
Jackson saw significant improvements across all categories.
GPAs rose between .16 and .27 points for each grade level, tardiness dropped from an average of 6.74 to 3.25 instances daily and car crashes involving drivers aged 16 to 18 years old dropped by 70 percent.
Students also reported getting more sleep each night, reducing the number feeling drowsy or nodding off in class.
One student was ambivalent about the change. Student school board member Charlotte Hoeft appreciated what the later start time offered her classmates, but felt 9 a.m. is too late in the morning, especially with the final bell ringing close to 4 p.m.
“The start times have been a big transition for the district,” she said. “It has allowed student to come in early for help, have practice for a sport or get the sleep they need.”
The counter-argument Hoeft has heard is that in winter it gets dark around the time students are let out of school, limiting after-school activities.
“Instead of starting school at 9 a.m., start at 8:15 or 8:30,” Hoeft said. “This would still allow for … time after school for other pursuits.”
Cora Mitchell hasn’t seen the benefit of a later start time. Each morning she wakes up around 5:30 and arrives at swim practice by 6, her mother Mary Woolen said.
She then goes to school and finally home to do homework.
“She’s tired,” Woolen said. “She can’t hit the books until practically 7:30, 8 at night.”
For Mitchell it boils down to time management until swim season ends, but Woolen applauded the research that shows teenagers need more sleep.
“It’s not rocket science that if they get to sleep-in later it will be more in sync with biological clocks,” she said.
Libby Crews Wood agreed. She teaches art at Wilson Elementary School, and her daughter is a junior at Jackson Hole High School. In middle school she rode the bus into Jackson before sunrise. Now that her daughter is older, she is more of a “night owl,” as Crews Wood calls her.
“The older children have a very different clock,” she said. “They stay up later, they are highly stimulated until later and then, consequently, they need more time to recover in the morning.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees, advising that middle and high school students need at least eight and a half hours of sleep each night.
Trustee Paul D’Amours made a motion to continue later start times at Jackson Hole High School, Summit High School and Jackson Hole Middle School. The vote in favor was unanimous.