CBSD Families Can Assess Sleep Needs of Students Under Wake Up and Learn Program

Most everyone agrees: Too many school students aren’t getting enough sleep, and increasingly, it’s having an impact on their mental wellness and school performance. Now, Central Bucks School District is launching “Wake Up and Learn,” a collaborative effort with medical professionals and parents to determine whether students are getting enough of the right kind of sleep to be productive in school and extracurricular activities.

Under the stewardship of CBSD Superintendent Dr. Abram Lucabaugh and overseen by Director of Pupil Services, Alyssa Marton, students from grades seven through 12 will be given the option of completing a voluntary online assessment of their sleep habits to help students and their families devise better sleep strategies.

"There tends to be a laser focus on insufficient number of hours of sleep,’’ says Dr. Anne Marie Morse, a neurologist at Geisinger Janet Weis Children’s Hospital in Danville, who has devised and will administer Wake Up and Learn. ``Nationally, we have a lot of attention at delayed school start times, and the concern that we're not giving them the appropriate amount of opportunity to sleep. However, it is important to recognize that there is more than just duration that we worry about. We worry about the timing of sleep. We worry about the quality of sleep.”

Next week, CBSD families will receive an email inviting them to participate in the program. Parents of participating students will have control over the confidentiality of their child’s assessment including, whether CBSD sees the findings and whether the results become part of a larger study that seeks to develop strategies to improve sleep habits and improve student results.

The stakes are high when it comes to sleep. Increasingly, research shows that sleep issues are an independent risk factor in suicide attempts by adolescents and teenagers. Then there are the significant impacts sleep plays in academic performance.

"We have seen a lack of focus in school that sometimes presents itself as attention deficit hyperactivity-like symptoms, where students don't seem focused,” Marton says. “They're putting their head down, they seem highly distractable. They're not engaged in instruction. When students miss pieces of instruction, even brief lapses here and there, they may end up with gaps or holes in their knowledge base.

"When they matriculate to higher level courses, we begin to see their progress slip.”

Sleep issues also cause problems for students beyond the school day, especially when they engage in extracurricular activities, she says.

“They don't have the same stamina or endurance that a child who's sleeping well is going to have,” she says. “Our students lead busy lives, and once they make it through a school day, they simply don't have the energy left to participate at a peak level in sports, music, work, and family life.’’

Wake Up and Learn is part of a district wide prioritization of mental health wellness by CBSD, which has more than 18,000 students in 23 schools. CBSD’s full-time mental health staff has been increased from three to eight social workers or certified school counselors.

Each of the District’s five middle schools – where mental health needs have increased – will be staffed with a counselor, allowing the three existing staff members to focus on the high schools.

"When we posted these positions, my colleagues from around the county wanted to know how I was able to get the additional support for our students, says Marton. "I have a really supportive board and superintendent who saw the need, that’s the bottom line.’’

The first assessment will be done sometime around mid-October, with the option for two other assessments in March and again in May ``to assess changes in behavior,’’ says Marton.

Dr. Morse hopes Central Bucks parents see the program as the tool it is meant to be.

"It gives parents the opportunity to opt into another level of assessment, which is a little bit more intensive and really drills down and starts looking at not only sleep habits, but how they are impacting mental health, academic performance -- even possibly, at times suicidal ideation,” Dr Morse said. “I do think it's a conversation that needs to be had because we are living the consequence of a sleep-deprived nation with just increasing numbers of medical and psychiatric outcomes that are not optimal.

"A good day starts with a great night's sleep. And so, we really do want to make sure that we're giving our students the opportunity to have good days every day by allowing them to get a great night's sleep.’’

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