Should high school day start later?

OKEECHOBEE — At their monthly meeting on Dec. 11 the Okeechobee County School Board set the date for a workshop to discuss moving back the start time for Okeechobee High School. The workshop is scheduled to take place on Jan. 14 at 5 p.m. in the school board’s regular meeting room.

Moving the start time for the high school was discussed during the board’s meeting back on June 19, which is when school board members initially decided to delay making a final decision until 2019.

During that June meeting, school board chairperson Jill Holcomb explained her rationale for not wanting to make the change without more information.

“I do think high school starts too early, but I don’t want it to start too late as well,” said Ms. Holcomb at the June meeting. “I want to be able to move it without impacting after school activities or jobs.”

The domino effect that comes with changing school start times, from earlier start times for elementary students to possibly affecting athletics and after school jobs held by high school students, along with the community’s 50/50 vote in a survey about the issue published by the school district, caused the board to be wary of instituting any drastic changes for the 2018-19 school year.

The issue of high school start times has been making the rounds at school boards across the country in recent years due in part to studies which have shown that later start times were beneficial to high school students.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during puberty, adolescents become sleepy later at night and need to sleep later in the morning as a result in shifts in their circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is the internal body clock that regulates biological processes in a 24 hour cycle. It helps ensure certain body functions work in harmony with our sleep wake cycle, including body temperature and hormone secretion like melatonin which is key to helping us sleep.

School districts that have made the change are already seeing improvements in their students. On Dec. 12 researchers at the University of Washington published findings in the journal “Science Advances” which show that after school officials in Seattle pushed back their high school start times students increased their total nightly sleep from six hours and 50 minutes to seven hours and 24 minutes and the district saw an improvement in grades as well as a reduction in tardiness and absences.

The school board also recognized students from Okeechobee who participated in the Heartland Honor Choir at the South Florida State College Performing Arts Center on Oct. 30.

Students who performed in the Heartland Honor Choir on Oct. 30 at South Florida State College were recognized at the Okeechobee County School Board’s monthly meeting on Dec. 11. Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion

The choir featured students from DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry and Highlands counties.

Okeechobee superintendent Ken Kenworthy reached out to OHS science teacher Wendy Reister and English teacher Jim Leidy to see if they would like the opportunity to bring together a group of students to make the trip to Avon Park and perform in the concert.

“This was the first year that we got to participate,” Ms. Reister explained to the school board,“ and it was really fun for the kids. They learned a lot. In their preparation they had to learn a song in Swahili, a song in Italian, a song in Russian, and they had to learn to speak with an Irish brogue. It was really awesome to watch them come together and it was great to see kids from all the different counties perform.”

Brahmans Florinda Xandrea E. Cea and Zachary Reister each auditioned for and were awarded solo performances in the concert.

“We had some stars there and it was really cool to see them shine,” continued Ms. Reister.

“We’re so small compared to all the other counties, so that was a really great thing to see.”

Schools that participated in the Food for Families food drive before Thanksgiving were recognized by the school board for their contribution. South Elementary donated 775 pounds of food, Seminole Elementary donated 1,691 pounds, Osceola Middle School donated 821 pounds, Okeechobee Freshman Campus donated 264 pounds, North Elementary donated 664 pounds, Everglades Elementary donated 1,189 pounds and Central Elementary led the way with 2,014 pounds donated.

Okeechobee County schools donated over 6,000 pounds of food to the Food for Families food drive before Thanksgiving. Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion.

 

Seminole Elementary was recognized as a tier-one model school by Florida’s Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS) Project. Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion

Richard Marion is a staff writer and photographer at Lake Okeechobee News and can be reached at rmarion@newszap.com.

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