SPS Today: Morning Bells | Chapel Moves to 8:30 a.m. Start

Chapel Moves to 8:30 a.m. Start

2015_May_Peter Finger_DSC_4431.JPG

Logistics aside, when SPS administrators determined to move the Chapel start time back 30 minutes, they knew it was the right thing to do. “I don’t need to prove it’s healthy and beneficial,” says Dr. John Bassi, medical director of Clark House, “because data shows that a later start for adolescents is both healthy and appropriate.”

Beginning this fall, students and faculty began filing into Chapel at 8:30 a.m. four days a week. The schedule will continue throughout the year. Last spring, Rector Mike Hirschfeld ’85 asked Dr. Bassi about the possibility of a later start. The School had previously experimented with delayed starts, but they were limited to the Winter Term. Under Rector Bill Matthews ’61, Chapel began at 8:30 a.m. during the winter of 2009. The time was changed to 8:20 a.m. for the winter of 2013 and 8:15 a.m. for 2014. While there was not much argument that more sleep in the morning would benefit the School community, figuring out how to steal precious minutes from the day was another challenge.

To accommodate the 8:30 a.m. start time for 2017-18, Dean of Studies Lori Bohan led a group that proposed ways to cut time judiciously. Dean of Chapel Alice Courtright volunteered to cut Chapel by five minutes each day. In addition, passing time between the end of the academic day and the beginning of athletics was cut from 30 minutes to 20 in the fall and spring and from 30 to 25 in the winter. In the winter, faculty members also agreed to cut 50-minute class blocks to 45 minutes. In the fall and spring, athletic teams cut 15 minutes from their practices. 

“It really was a joint effort across all departments,” says Bohan. Though it is hard to measure the impact of a later start to the day, Food Services reported a 20-percent increase in breakfast attendance in the first several weeks of the Fall Term. Some might argue that, with more time in the morning, students will just stay up later. In a September 2017 article in The New York Times entitled “The Economic Case for Letting Teenagers Sleep a Little Later,” author Aaron E. Carroll provides a counterargument.  

“Six studies, two of which were randomized controlled trials, showed that delaying the start of school from 25 to 60 minutes corresponded with increased sleep time of 25 to 77 minutes per week night,” Carroll writes. “In other words, when students were allowed to sleep later in the morning, they still went to bed at the same time, and got more sleep.” Dr. Bassi says the School considered whether a later start would serve to delay bedtimes, but decided to provide more options by controlling the morning schedule.

“The idea is to make students more well rested and healthier,” Dr. Bassi says, citing the need to pay attention to the circadian rhythms of adolescents. Its importance was most recently recognized in October, when three American scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for their discoveries about the body’s daily rhythms and how they influence sleep patterns, behavior, and hormone levels.

The later start time is healthier for adults in the community, too, says Vice Rector for Faculty Michael Spencer. Early results show a less frantic pace in the mornings, and an opportunity for faculty to take more time caring for their families and themselves. “The additional time in the morning is a benefit to work/life balance for adults in the community,” says Spencer. “It’s a real gift to all of us.”