To the editor:

The Andover School Committee is considering proposals to change the start times for all schools in Andover.

One scenario starts elementary students at 9:15 to 9:30 a.m. (the “shift” option, i.e. shift elementary school start times to after new/later high school and middle school start times).

Another option starts elementary students at 7:30 to 7:45 a.m. (the “flip” option, i.e. flip the elementary school start times with high school start times).

The idea behind these proposed changes is to find ways to provide high school students more sleep.

I don’t dispute the data the School Committee collected suggesting that high schoolers need more sleep. My contention lies with the School Committee’s failure to consider the needs of elementary students in its effort to address adolescent sleep shortages.

Under the flip option, an earlier start time puts elementary children at the bus stop as early as 6:30 a.m., and that often leaves them waiting for the bus in the dark. Under the shift option, later start times could have some children getting off the bus after school as late as 4:55 p.m. and being dropped off at a dark bus stop.

Keeping all of our children safe is a top community priority. We need to work to find a solution that doesn’t leave our kids in the dark at the bus stop.

Many working parents end their work day after 5 p.m. and face long commutes and heavy traffic before they can pick up their children. If their children get on the bus at 6:30 a.m. (waking up at 5:30 or earlier to get ready for school), then spend the day working hard at school, their day is extra extended because they have to join an after-care program to await parent pick-up. That means they end up with longer “work days” than their parents.

As an adult, I’m exhausted at the end of the day — and I am not growing, learning at a rapid developmental pace, trying to make sense of the world, or developing my sense of self. Imagine how a child under the age of 12 would feel under these circumstances.

Let’s respect the delicacy of childhood and give our children time at home – time to be with family whose love and guidance gives them the sustenance they need to grow to be concerned and compassionate citizens. Tired kids are hard to mold.

A 9:15 to 9:30 a.m. “shift” would deprive elementary school students of the opportunity to exercise, learn new skills, develop new friendships, create and try new things, and have needed therapies outside of and after school.

It would take away their opportunity to engage in free play and outdoor time. It would take away from much-needed family time. All of these things are as important as school; they provide opportunities to practice social skills and develop background knowledge about the world outside of the classroom. These are the things that shape kids into the well-rounded people we want and need them to be.

A high level of community engagement outside of school is directly correlated to school success, but when kids don’t get off the bus until 4:55 p.m. or later, they only really have time for homework, dinner and bed. Don’t we all want our kids to grow by asking questions, seeking joy and relating to all their peers?

Then we need to value and respect their time outside of school.

No doubt we need to work together to address the issue of adolescent sleep. But, elementary school kids need sleep too.

Our community is full of innovative thinkers, and I know that if we work together, we can find creative ways to ensure all students get the sleep they need. It is with great respect for the time and commitment our School Committee members have devoted to the issue of adolescent sleep that I ask them to delay their vote to allow for more thoughtful consideration of elementary children and their families.

Don’t rush to vote. Give our community time to collaborate and come together on this issue.

Jennifer Ross

Andover

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