For decades, Fairfax County schools have sent elementary school students home after half a day on Mondays. This was never a good idea, and it has been more damaging to family schedules and student learning with the increase over the years of two-income households and greater economic diversity.
That is about to change.
Karen Garza, superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, has demonstrated in several ways that she understands tackling the challenges of educating all of Fairfax County’s students will require deviation from the status quo.
Not only will half day Mondays come to an end, but it will come to an end in two months, in September, 2014, a remarkable accomplishment for a bureaucracy the size of Fairfax County Public Schools.
The change will also come with 20 minutes of recess a day. Research shows (and common sense confirms) that recess and physical activity benefit student learning.
It’s an important step showing responsiveness to the needs of families and students. Nearly one third of the county’s kindergarteners are poor. How do we think those parents are managing the need for child care on Monday afternoons? FCPS has resisted meeting the needs of the whole child, but cannot expect to successfully educate its 186,785 students without this kind of change.
Programs to identify gifted and talented students among poor and minority students, summer school, year-round modified calendars for some schools, and many other changes will need to be considered and fast tracked for the county school system to succeed.
Consider: About 50,000 of the county’s public school students are poor enough to receive subsidized meals. About 30,000 of the county’s public school students are receiving specialized instruction to better learn English. More than 25,000 of the county’s public schools students are receiving special education services. White students make up 42 percent of the student body; 23 percent are Latino; 19 percent are Asian American; 10 percent are African American.
Fairfax County is by some measures the wealthiest county in the nation, or at least in the top five.
If success educating this population of students is possible anywhere, it should be here, but there is nothing simple about it and will require much more change.
More Sleep for Teens
Later start times for high school is slated as another top priority for change in FCPS, and we agree.
New research continues to pile up about sleep deprivation and the damage it does to teens. A rigorous study published in February demonstrates that reduced quantity of sleep in adolescents increases risk for major depression, according to research at the University of Texas School of Public Health.
The Centers for Disease Control: “Sleep is increasingly recognized as important to public health, with sleep insufficiency linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors. ... Persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity.”
According to Judith Owens, M.D., director of Sleep Medicine at Children’s National Medical Center: “The scientific evidence is irrefutable: chronic sleep loss and disruption in circadian rhythms associated with early high school start times are associated with negative consequences including poor academic performance, increased sport-related injuries, and potential long-term increases in cardiovascular and metabolic (i.e., type 2 diabetes) health risks. We know that delaying high school start times increases total sleep time and positively impacts academic achievement and school attendance. There are also documented mental and physical health benefits for students that include reductions in rates of depression and fewer drowsy driving crashes.”