Lake Washington School District (LWSD) high school students and teachers are questioning whether this year’s later start times are delivering on their goal of giving teens more sleep. For some students, the new start time means choosing between sleep and athletics or even extra teacher support.
Eastlake sophomore Vaishnavi Iyer, 15, said although the school hours changed for students, commute times didn’t change for the teachers. Office hours for Eastlake staff are now offered one hour before school and teachers are only available for 15 minutes after school ends.
“It’s always just a hit or miss on whether or not they are going to be able to work with their teachers [in the morning]…I’m not able to get the help that I need, really, at any time,” Iyer said.
Early office hours pose a particular challenge for student athletes.
Eastlake sophomore and swim athlete Sahana Narayanan, 15, had swim practices before school this fall. Not only did this mean fewer opportunities to meet with teachers–it also meant a 4:00 a.m. wake-up call.
The start times were supposed to increase sleep, but for Narayanan, they decreased it.
“I would start falling asleep in classes because I was so tired [from] waking up so early, and also exhausted from swimming,” Narayanan said.
“There’s only 24 hours in a day…no matter how you rearrange it…instead of people staying up until 1:00 to finish their homework, they’re staying up until 2:00,” Narayanan said. “And I have to keep telling my teachers I can’t meet in the morning.”
Afterschool sports pose challenges as well.
Eastlake sophomore and volleyball C-team captain Saanvi Agarwal, 15, has only 25 minutes between school and volleyball. On top of that, if games are away, she gets home around 10:00 p.m. Agarwal is left with virtually no time for homework or school clubs.
“Last year …. I could run to a [club] meeting and come back [to practice],” Agarwal said. “It’s just too late now–it doesn’t work anymore.”
Some students expressed suspicion of an ulterior motive for the new start times.
“They said that it’s so [students] can get more sleep,” Agarwal said, “but … I think the teachers wanted more sleep.”
Eastlake teacher Mark Sheffield, 55, disagrees. This is his fourth year teaching advanced placement (AP) world history, honors English, and sociology at Eastlake. He arrives at school every day at 5:30 a.m. and is there until 3:40 p.m.
“Teachers don’t get more sleep,” he said.
Sheffield explained that most teachers have families and commitments that they are now taking care of before school too. Teachers are also feeling the crunch of having their workday end later.
“Once you finally get home…we are more exhausted,” Sheffield said. “All of the after school stuff … none of that goes away. So we get started with that later in the evenings, which means we actually probably get less sleep now than we got before.”
Sheffield struggles with the inability to offer more help to his students, knowing that morning office hours do not work for many.
“I would imagine it’s more challenging [for the students],” Sheffield said. “If you want extra help [and] you come in at 7:30 a.m., that’s when we were starting school before. So are you getting extra rest at that point?”
Tesla STEM High School students are experiencing some challenges with the later start time too.
Rewa Rathee, 15, struggles to juggle volleyball and academics now. For her, the promise of more sleep has not at all been delivered. A later dismissal means a later practice, and Rathee regularly stays up doing homework until midnight or later.
Finding time to meet with teachers for extra support is also a challenge. As with Eastlake, Tesla teachers are only available for office hours before school and for 15 minutes after school.
“Even if your teacher is willing to help you, you first got to find time with them and…if you’re not getting enough sleep, there’s no way you can go through the day without zoning out or falling asleep, and you learn nothing at the end of the day,” Rathee said.
“I think the time should be back to normal,” Rathee concluded, a sentiment shared by everyone interviewed.
Without the ability to revert start times, Sheffield does offer some optimism.
“We still haven’t settled into it yet…it’s just a matter of trying to trust the process,” Sheffield said.