Later start drawing positive reviews at Libertyville, Vernon Hills
As my two children became teenagers, it became so obvious to me that the school bus schedule in our neighborhood was all wrong.
Here were the teenagers, bleary-eyed and half asleep trudging to the bus stop first, in some cases earlier than 7 a.m.
Then it was the irritated middle schoolers a little later, and then the bouncy, energetic elementary school kids last, often after 8 a.m.
Anyone who has kids knows that it's the little kids who are always the early (often far too early) birds, jumping out of bed in the morning as if they've already missed something.
Meanwhile, it's the teenagers who are like heavy lifeless lumps in their beds, sound asleep and deep in dreamland, even after numerous warnings to rise from both the alarm clock and their annoyed parents.
Teenagers, who are growing fast and flushed with hormones, need sleep. It's a fact. And yet, they aren't getting nearly enough. Not with school that starts far too early, and with after-school activities, such as sports and theater and music, that often keep them out each night way too late.
Then there's usually homework on top of that. Sometimes hours of it when they get home. Midnight is not an unusual bedtime for some busy teens.
According to Nationwide Children's Hospital, most teenagers average about 7 hours of sleep each night. Experts recommend that they get between 9 and 9 ½ hours of sleep each night.
That's a huge deficit right there.
District 128, which governs Libertyville and Vernon Hills High Schools, decided to address this issue.
As of this year, both high schools are starting their days more than an hour later than last year.
First period at both schools now begins at 8:45 a.m., compared to 7:30 a.m. last year for Libertyville and 7:55 a.m. for Vernon Hills.
To accommodate the late start, each class period was shortened by five minutes, but the day ends 10 minutes later.
Not surprisingly, the extra zzzzzzzs are getting A+ reviews from the kids, particularly from athletes who stretch not only their minds, but their bodies to the limits each day at school.
"I like it a lot. Everyone on my team does," said Max Xu, a 3-year varsity lineman for the Vernon Hills football team. "I feel noticeably different at school. I wake up a lot more excited for school. And it's definitely easier to focus during the day."
And Xu needs the focus, too. He's up late every night doing homework for his five advanced placement classes: physics, calculus, statistics, government and macro economics.
Now in his senior year, Xu has never gotten anything besides As in high school, and he currently boasts a 4.575 grade-point average. With a 36 ACT and a 1560 SAT, he is looking at the heavy academic hitters for college, schools such as MIT, Cornell, Northwestern, Duke and Stanford.
School is important to Xu. Football is important to Xu. And some days, it's tough to fit it all in. And still get sleep.
"Last year, I was always so tired in the morning because I had stayed up so late studying," Xu said. "I usually had to skip breakfast in the mornings because I didn't have enough time to eat and that would make me even more tired by the end of the day.
"Now, even when I stay up until midnight, I'm able to get about eight hours of sleep and I feel so much better, in school and at football," Xu said. "Even just an hour extra makes such a difference. It's easier to get up. I eat breakfast. I'm more rested. It gives me a lot more time to recover (physically) after a tough practice the day before. My mood is just so much better with just that one hour extra of sleep."
That is music to the ears of District 128 officials, who were excited to implement this new schedule after doing the research last year.
"We had a late start task force last year and one of the things that we learned was that a teen's sleep pattern is different from an adult's, where they get the best sleep from about 11 p.m. to 8 a.m.," District 128 associate superintendent Briant Kelly said. "So just that shift and starting the day later helps a lot. And there are so many benefits to teens getting more sleep, from academic success, to physical health to emotional well-being.
"We've been in school for only three weeks, but we're already getting great feedback. We don't have as many tardies, students are more awake and more active in the mornings at school."
And that attentiveness, and focus and energy seems to carry through the day into after-school activities, like football practice.
Vernon Hills football coach Bill Bellecomo, whose team is 1-0 heading into Saturday's nonconference game at Waukegan, loves the bounce that the new schedule gives his practices.
"We haven't had a bad practice yet," Bellecomo said.
Xu doesn't anticipate that changing any time soon either.
"It's easier to perform in school and in sports when you're not tired," Xu said. "It makes a big difference."
Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw