MILBURN, NJ - Looking to raise awareness of what they say is a major issue for students their age, a group of seventh graders at the Millburn Middle School went before the board on Monday to present their research into the topic.
Michael Williams-Owolabi, Wasay Syed, Holden Bergam, Lahin Zaman, Terrence Yang and Christian Carrizo all presented before the board, reading off their PowerPoint, and explaining that their proposal called for a later start time at the middle school.
Williams-Owolabi is the son of Millburn Board of Education member Oyin Owolabi, a connection that allowed the group to focus their message and get ready to present. After speaking in front of the board, the students released the following joint statement to TAPinto Millburn/Short Hills:
"The operation started when Michael Williams-Owolabi and Wasay Syed had a conversation regarding school start times in our district and how the start times affected ourselves and our fellow peers. This simple idea was a basis for a cause to create later school start times. We set up a meeting with the board, thanks to Oyin Owolabi who helped organize our prep meetings, and we were able to contact the BOE in person. We want to gain the support of people in Millburn and make an everlasting change in the current school system."
Since their initial conversation on the subject, the group has met several times, using online video chat to communicate with each other and organize a presentation about the problems with the current school start times.
As the group noted in its presentation before the board, sleep deprivation is a major concern for them.
They cited the National Sleep Foundation, which says that children ages 6-13 need 9-11 hours of sleep per night, a figure the group says they are not getting. As a result, they feel that they cannot achieve their best standards in school.
In their research the group also conducted a survey of fellow seventh graders at the middle school. While the sample size of 50 respondents was small, of those 50, 88 percent of those surveyed agreed with the group's position.
Two of the major issues foreseen by the group of students are extracurricular activities and transportation. With a shifted schedule, school sports and other programs would have to change their times. The group noted that while they have no concrete solution in place yet for that, it could be discussed at al later time.
The other major issue noted by the group was transportation, namely that children would likely be waiting in the dark for busses. One of the suggestions raised was that monitors could wait with the kids at the stops for safety.
Dr. Christine Burton, Millburn Superintendent was asked about the group's presentation before the board. She said it was good to see the students come before the board and present. Additionally, she said that the preparation evident in the group's research was admirable.
"They did research," Dr. Burton said. "They've got data, they polled their colleagues, their peers and came before the board to share their ideas...tonight their voice mattered."
The group also said that should the need arise, they will look to come before the board again with any further proposals.