A First Modest Proposal

How to improve student achievement in Seguin ISD?  It is a subject that has been discussed, debated, and mulled over for years.  Raise teacher pay.  Improve discipline.  Universal pre-kindergarten. Test more.  Test less.  You name it-it’s been discussed.  So far, we haven’t seen benefits from the various initiatives that have been tried.

Educate Seguin would like to propose to the Board of Trustees that they consider something new:  changing the time school starts.

There is a lot of solid evidence that this can improve the performance of middle-and high-school students.  Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement supporting moving start times for middle- and high-school students to no earlier than 8:30 AM. (1)  Our schools currently begin their day before 8:00 AM.  Many people think teens stay awake late because they are on their phone, playing video games, or watching television.  While these are sometimes factors, in fact, the opposite is actually true:  teens are on their phones or other devices because they are awake.  With the hormonal changes of adolescents, the sleep/wake cycle in teens is actually affected.  Melatonin, a hormone produced by the body to promote sleep, is not released in teens until later in the day.  In addition, teens continue to need more sleep than adults: 8.5-9.5 hours per night.  The combination of not feeling sleepy until later, needing extra sleep, and an early start at school results in students being tired during the school day due to lack of adequate sleep.

Studies have shown that teens don’t just use a later school start to stay up later, either.  They actually sleep.  When schools shift start times later, teens sleep 30-60 minutes more each night.  It also benefits student performance.  One study estimates that scores on standardized tests increase 3 percentile points when school starts later.  And lower-performing students tend to benefit more than average-that could have a significant impact on our district’s standardized test performance.  Other benefits have been reported as well:  increased attendance rates, lower depression rates, fewer car accidents, higher rates of eating breakfast, and fewer visits to the school nurse.  There are a lot of potential benefits.

Obviously, there are trade-offs.  Many issues would need to be considered, such as scheduling of extra-curricular activities, transportation logistics, time for after-school employment, and child care for younger siblings to name a few,  However, the American Academy of Pediatrics, in considering all of the variables, supports delaying start times for middle- and high-school students to 8:30 AM or later.  Educate Seguin believes it is an idea worthy of serious consideration and study.  Having looked at the data, we urge the administration and Board of Trustees of Seguin ISD to look at the feasibility of later start times for our older students and to consider whether it might be an appropriate initiative to help our students achieve their best.

Together, we can do better.

Bob Stephens

Are We Giving Students the Help They Need?

Last school year, in what was truly a tragedy for all involved, a young man shot and killed himself at Seguin High School.  Last week, news reports tell of two students arrested after an altercation on campus that resulted in injury to a Seguin police officer.  This week, there were rumors spread of a shooting planned for the high school campus.  These things, when they happen, are troubling for all of us.  That many of our students suffer from emotional and mental health problems is surely not a surprise.  Seguin is a diverse community with a sizeable population of poor families, many of which are single-parent or that are led by a grandparent or other relative.  We know that mental health problems are more common in people of low socioeconomic status (1) and that such problems also have a genetic component and thus run in families (2).  These two facts suggest that we may have many students struggling with emotional and psychological problems across the income spectrum.  This is no surprise to the teachers, counselors, and administrators trying to educate these students every day.

Unfortunately, our district lacks the trained personnel to effectively deal with these students.  There are currently no licensed professionals available to work with students in the general population who may need emotional or psychological supports.  Such personnel are available for our students in special education, but the majority of students struggling with these issues are in the general student population.  We have a student body in the district of about 7,000 students, two-thirds of which are of low socioeconomic status.  For the large majority of our students,those, not in special education programs, we have no licensed psychologists, mental health counselors, or social workers. (Keep in mind that the counselors at each campus are primarily academic counselors trained to recognized and deal with educational problems.  This is a very different profession from a mental health counselor.)  We did have two licensed professional counselors on staff for two years, funded by a grant.  However, when the grant expired last year, those positions were eliminated.

Looking at the comments on social media about the perceived behavior and discipline issues in our schools, I realize many people place responsibility for dealing with these issues on the family.  But I ask you to reconsider.  What if there is no family?  What if the family members have their own psychologicial issues to confront?  What if the family is doing all they can but the student needs additional support while at school? Then what?  Do we shrug our shoulders and write these kids off?  I, for one, am not comfortable with that approach.  I don’t believe that our schools can parent the students.  But I do believe that our schools, IF they are to successfully educate ALL of our students, must provide emotional and psychological supports to all students with such needs.  Failing to do so ignores a serious problem for a significant number of our students and is an abdication of our responsibility to our young people.

A lot has been said and written about our district’s personnel decisions.  The lack of mental health professionals on staff receives almost no attention.  I believe it is time for that to change.

Together, we can do better.

Bob Stephens