School community to debate later start times

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By Wren Propp

The time school should start for teens and pre-teens will be under scrutiny in Los Alamos with several discussion-based events planned for the public school community over the next two weeks.

Representatives of New Mexico First, a public policy think-tank, will ask – in a variety of forums – whether Los Alamos High School and Los Alamos Middle School students should come to school later.

The comment gathering will culminate in findings released at the school board meeting Oct. 26, according to documents provided by the Los Alamos School District.

Why change start times?

The question has been gathering momentum in public school communities following research showing sleep patterns for young adults and teens are somewhat different than younger children and older adults.

New Mexico First has offered a White Paper, which summarizes the issue, compiles cases of start time changes in other school districts, and focuses on the demographics of Los Alamos and how they might impact changing start times at the high school and middle school.

New Mexico First was paid $29,500 for the project by the school district.

The paper also delves into recent findings about the biology of sleep, as well as findings from a Start Time Working Group organized at Los Alamos High School earlier this spring.

For example, the paper reports Los Alamos High School students said they rarely get eight hours or more of sleep each night, according to the working group.

The paper also reports on national research showing teens generally do not reach deep sleep until after 11 p.m. and aren’t fully awake until after 8 a.m.

Heather Balas, president of New Mexico First, said the work she and researcher Pamela Blackwell will do in Los Alamos beginning next week is the first time the organization has worked with a community on public school start times.

The organization structures town halls and forums to help solve various challenges in the fields of education, the economy, health care and natural resources.

Whitney Holland, president of Los Alamos Federation of School Employees, said she believes the school district will ultimately do what’s best for the students.

The school district has posted the research paper on its website. Plans also include offering access to “one-click” comments to its website, with links to the New Mexico First website, according to information provided by the school district. Information will be distributed in school newsletters, school websites and at staff meetings at the elementary schools and middle school.

A meeting for all high school staff is planned for 3:15 p.m. on Tuesday at the high school’s Speech Theater.

Presentations and community-wide discussions will be held on two days, Oct. 24 and 25. On Oct. 24, the community-wide discussion begins at 5:30 p.m. at the high school’s Speech Theater with snacks provided.

On Oct. 25, the community-wide discussion begins at 5:30 p.m. at Pinon Elementary in White Rock.

Sessions with students and staff will be held over both days, as well, including a “pizza and conversation” with high school students following the taking of the PSAT on Oct. 25 after 11:30 a.m. at the high school’s Speech Theater.

School district officials expect to provide more details, and access to electronic commenting, on the LAPS website.