The other night, my husband and I sat at our kitchen table with our 7-year-old as he worked his way through second-grade math homework. He couldn’t focus. He struggled. He squirmed. He cried. He was exhausted. It was 7:30 p.m. Why was he doing homework so late?
We are working parents. Both of us endure grueling commutes, like so many others, at the mercy of traffic and public transportation for the daily slog from Andover to Boston, and home again to our children. Our kids attend after-school care programs. Under the current school start times, they leave the house at 7:55 a.m. and return home just after 6 p.m. That is a 10-hour day – for two boys under the age of 8. With soccer, swimming and other activities, some days are longer.
Every day there is the uncertainty of the commute. Traffic, late trains, bad weather – innumerable and unpredictable obstacles to pick up our kids, to get them home or to the soccer field. On Tuesday of this week, trouble on the commuter rail, followed by heavier than usual traffic north on 93, delayed pick-up of my 7-year-old by more than an hour. There he sat in the window at SHED, waiting for mom in tears. By the time we reached home, unpacked the car and rushed through dinner, we sat down for a frantic push through homework. At 7:30 p.m. A 12-hour day. For a 7-year-old.
But we make it work. We make it work like so many other parents in this community. We make it work because we love our kids endlessly and would do anything for them – and we love where we live. So, when the topic of possible changes to school start times surfaced in Andover, we initially thought – if we had to, we could make it work – for the sake of the healthy living of our adolescent neighbors who need more sleep to succeed. Then, as more details about the proposed start-times emerged, our concern for what this could mean for our family and our children deepened – and our alarm increased as we understood that too little had been done to safeguard the needs of elementary-aged students.
Under any of the current proposals – a shift, a flip, something in between – our children face an even longer “work” day – and more time away from home and away from family – and less time to be the happy, carefree children they deserve to be in a society that demands so much from them at such a young age. If the School Committee votes to flip elementary school start-times with middle and high school start times, our children – as do so many others in the community – face extended time in after-care programs – and an even longer day. If the School Committee votes to shift start-times, shifting all school-start times later, we face the unenviable choice of putting our children in before-school-care and after-school care, for a doubly longer day – or pleading with our employers to shift our work hours – just so we can make it work. That’s what changes like those proposed by the School Committee mean to our family – and very likely to so many other Andover families.
To the Andover School Committee: You are asking so much of the community to make this work. You are asking us to extend our children’s days – by a lot, under any proposed scenario; you are asking us to increase our child-care costs – by a lot, under any proposed scenario; you are asking us to make major changes to our work schedules, professional lives, time spent together as a family unencumbered by the daily grind – by a lot, under any proposed scenario. So now – we ask you. Please: Delay your vote. Please: Take more time to consider the needs of all the students living in this community, regardless of age or research (or absence of it) available on required sleep/wake times. Please: Provide detailed information to the public about your desired goals. Please: Be genuinely open to feedback and welcome dissent as a tool to finding the best solutions.
The only way to make this work is to come together and collaborate in a productive, inclusive, thoughtful, measured manner so that we can devise a way to protect the interests of all our students and the community at large. Of course, we want what is best for adolescent children. Our boys will be teenagers someday, too. But we also want what is best for everyone. There is simply too much at stake to get this wrong.
attorney, member of A:PAC