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Cheektowaga students overwhelmingly reject idea of later school starting time

She thought she had a dreamy idea: Start the school day later so teens get more sleep.

It made sense to senior Holly Lang, the ex-officio member of the Cheektowaga Central School Board, who thought that her classmates would appreciate more time slumbering following their studies and after-school activities. Classes at the high school start at 7:22 a.m.

Lang had pitched a time change to the rest of the board in the past, and trustees challenged her to take a survey to see what other students think.

She reported back to the board last with the results of her survey.

She was surprised by what she found: While many students who were polled reported that they get less than the recommended amount of sleep each night, they also strongly disagreed that the school day should begin later.

Lang’s results revealed that 261 of the 291 students surveyed do not want a later start.

Reasons that students gave included having to watch younger siblings after school, losing shifts at jobs, delaying after-school activities, rearranging bus schedules on the district’s part, missing out on family time and disliking change.

But that didn’t deter Lang from urging the board to consider moving the first bell to about an hour later.

In her presentation, titled “Why High School Should Start Later,” she told the board that the shift would support the district’s mission of providing a nurturing environment, hinting that it might increase attendance and graduation rates.

“Wouldn’t a nurturing environment include a reasonable start time so students can have a better chance of getting enough hours of sleep to reach their academic potential?” she asked. “Is it important enough for you to make a change?”

Lang discussed studies that suggest she and her peers don’t get enough shut-eye and would benefit from the change.

According to the 2006 Sleep in America study, about 38 percent of ninth to 12th graders go to bed after 11 p.m.

Also, a study in Minneapolis schools showed that moving the first bell from 7:15 a.m. to 8:40 a.m. yielded students five more hours of sleep per week, which coincided with improvements in attendance and enrollment.

Lang surveyed 95 freshmen, 97 sophomores and 99 juniors at Cheektowaga High School about their feelings about a later start to school. She also asked them about their sleep patterns. Of the 261 students who said they didn’t want a later start to school, 87 percent of them said they get eight or fewer hours of sleep, while 41 percent get seven or fewer.

Trustees took no action on the request but praised Lang for her work on the survey.