Letter, Opinion

Starting school at 9 a.m.? You bet!

Dear Editor,

“The evidence is clear,” stated Mary Newman, head of school at The Sharon Academy (TSA). “Starting the school day later makes a big difference to high school students.”

For years, educators have known that starting the school day later helps teenage students’ sleep patterns, mental health, and academic achievement, explained Newman. “There is only so long we can talk about the benefits without putting them into practice. I am extremely excited to be able to incorporate the research data into the way school works for students at The Sharon Academy, starting this fall.”

The change in the start time of the school day is part of a much larger and more consequential plan for TSA to focus on “deeper learning,” a way of structuring the day and curricula to allow students to take deep dives into topics while reducing the interference of course overload.

Deeper learning refers to a way of organizing time and teaching classes that uses what we know about learning and brain function. Neuroscience tells us that the more disparate the things that students are juggling (five different subjects, for example), the more “interference” they must deal with in order to learn.

In TSA’s work with Dartmouth Professor Chris Jernstedt, from the psychological and brain science department, staff learned that thoughtful management of interference can have a very positive and pervasive effect on learning.

Jernstedt said, “The Sharon Academy’s plan for deeper learning is a wonderful example of what can happen when highly skilled, deeply reflective educators blend extensive knowledge of how the brain learns, how student engagement is best nurtured, and what the essential skills are that students need to thrive in the ever-changing world.”

Additionally, other schedule changes this fall will mean that students at TSA will enjoy unprecedented choice.

Many aspects of TSA’s curriculum will continue unchanged.  All second-semester juniors and first-semester seniors will continue to receive weekly career and college guidance as a part of their seminar curriculum.  And TSA’s popular electives program, with choices like kayaking, sugaring, chess, stringed instruments, photography, and drama (to name just a few) will also continue.

“When I tell prospective high school students about the change to a 9 a.m. start,” said Amber Wylie, director of enrollment, “their mouths literally drop open and their eyes open wide.  It’s as if I have just unexpectedly offered them a handful of chocolate.”

A later start, a scientifically-proven learning environment, and more choices.  What’s not to love about these changes?

TSA is planning a series of deeper learning information sessions to explain the changes in greater detail.  For more information visit sharonacademy.org.

Amber Wylie

Director of communications and enrollment at Sharon Academy

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