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Staff Editorials

Earlier school bells deserve big fat F

Last week,  new school superintendent Carlton Wilson asked for public input into possible new start times for the county’s schools. The proposed plan could roll the school bell back to 7:30 a.m. for middle and high school students, a full hour earlier than the CDC and many pediatricians and sleep experts recommend.

According to sleep scientist Wendy Troxel’s recent TED talk, sleep deprivation among American teenagers is an epidemic. She, the American Academy of Pediatricians, the CDC, sleep experts, and countless others recommend not starting school before 8:30 a.m.

Only about one in 10 teens gets the eight to 10 hours of sleep per night recommended by sleep scientists and pediatricians. And for those who say we’re doing good because our kid gets eight hours, Troxel reminds us that that’s the minimum. “Eight hours is kind of like getting a C on your report card.”

Troxel says public policy and early start times is a major factor preventing teens from getting the sleep they need. 

And, according to these researchers, there is a reason teens like to stay up late and it’s not Snapchat.

“As children approach and go through puberty, their brains begin producing the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin on a delayed schedule, making it difficult for them to feel tired before 11 p.m. This means that waking a teenager up at 6 a.m. is the biological equivalent of waking an adult up at 4 a.m.,” she said.

It turns out, those teen brains really are different than adults.

When adults have to get up at 4 a.m., it leaves us looking like cast members from The Walking Dead for the entire day. This is what our teens would experience every school day if school times are dramatically changed to 7:30 a.m. from the current 8:10 a.m. 

Many students face long bus rides, meaning they must arise considerably earlier than the start times; moving it up another 40 minutes will see more kids arrive looking exhausted before the learning ever begins.

Chronic sleep loss among teenagers has been associated with poor school performance and a higher risk for depressive symptoms, obesity, cardiovascular problems, risk-taking behaviors and athletic injuries. According to a recent Time magazine article, research suggests that delaying the start of the school day can reduce automobile accidents caused by sleepy teen drivers. In one 2008 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, crash rates fell by 16.5% in the two years after a school district shifted its start times an hours later, compared to the two years before. 

Teens attending schools with later start times are more likely to show up for school; school absences dropped by 25 percent in one surveyed district. And they’re less likely to drop out. Not surprisingly, they do better academically.

Standardized test scores in math and reading go up by 2-3 percentage points, according to the Time article. 

The reasons for possible earlier starts cited by the local school administration  - students leaving class early for extra-curricular activities or needing to get to work - stack up poorly when looking at the prevailing trends in education and the research involving student health and grades.

“Getting enough sleep is important for students’ health, safety, and academic performance,” says Anne Wheaton, Ph.D., lead author and epidemiologist in CDC’s Division of Population Health. “Early school start times, however, are preventing many adolescents from getting the sleep they need.”

If middle- and high-school students are allowed to wake up later in the morning, they’ll be more focused during the day, more alert behind the wheel and less likely to miss school.

To comment on the school’s survey, see pickenscountyschools.org.

 

Graduates: There’s a lot of wisdom in comedy

Ah, graduation. It’s the time of year in every student’s life (and their parent’s lives) to become reflective, to celebrate, and maybe even panic a little.

Saturday will mark the  annual graduation ceremony at Pickens High School where a couple of hundred seniors will flip their tassels to mark they are no longer high school students but rather young adults ready to take on the world. Whether they are heading off to college or straight into the big, bad workforce, this time of year there is no shortage of advice.

Celebrity commencement speeches at colleges and universities across the nation are ripe with the standard “follow your dreams” and “don’t be afraid to fail.” All good pieces of advice, of course, but sometimes the most sage advice comes from those who look at the world a bit differently than the rest of us - comedians.

There’s a lot of wisdom in comedy and sometimes the best comedians are serious and sometimes just seriously funny. 

 

“Try putting your iPhones down every once in a while and look at people’s face.” Amy Poehler, Harvard University, 2011

“You guys are millennials, which is the biggest generation in U.S. history. I thought it was hard for me to find a job. It’s going to be like The Hunger Games out there for you.” Ed Helms, University of Virginia, 2015

 

“Work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen.” Conan O’Brien

 

“Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path then by all means you should follow that.” Ellen DeGeneres, Tulane University, 2009

 

“It was so important for me to lose everything because I found what the most important thing is. The most important thing is to be true to yourself.” Ellen DeGeneres, Tulane University, 2009

 

“So how do you know what is the right path to choose to get the result that you desire? The honest answer is this: You won’t.” Jon Stewart, College of William and Mary, 2004

 

“On behalf of frogs, fish, pigs, bears and all of the other species who are lower than you on the food chain, thank you for dedicating your lives to saving our world and our home.” Kermit the Frog, Southampton College, 1996

 

“You are the nerds who are going to make some serious bank, which is why I am here today... to marry the best-looking amongst you.” Mindy Kaling, Harvard Law School, 2014

 

Today you begin the next phase of your life. Whether it’s college, a job, or a program abroad where you build a schoolhouse for underprivileged children while hooking up with each other.” Eugene Mirman, 2009 high school commencement speech

“You can’t do it alone. As you navigate through the rest of your life be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you. Spend a lot of time with them and it will change your life. No one is here today because they did it on their own. You’re all here because someone helped you. Someone gave you strength, helped you, held you. God, Allah, Buddha, Gaga. Whomever you pray to.” Amy Poehler, Harvard, 2011 

 

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the water slide overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.” Tina Fey

“As you go out in the world you’ll find that people are always quick to define you, to pigeonhole you, to whittle you down to their pre-conceived notions. Never let others define you, define yourselves.” Ed Helms, University of Virginia, 2015 

 

An edit medley

Survey offers chance for new ideas

 

The people of Pickens County have an opportunity at the moment that they actually have almost any time – to voice opinions on the future of the county.

“Public comment” appears on most meeting agendas, but rarely is it taken advantage of. 

We’d commend Commission Chair Rob Jones for running a particularly open government with meetings that encourage interaction with anyone who shows up.

Being heard and getting your way, however, are two different things. 

In between offering a thought and seeing something happen lies a step called consensus – what do the majority of your neighbors feel about your idea?

Right now in Pickens County all individuals have the chance to state what each of us wants to see happen. And, equally important, to see what our neighbors are thinking. Are you/we/us in the majority in your desires or are you a voice of one crying in the wilderness?

A survey appears on page 16A of this week’s paper.  Follow this link to take the survey online. Please take time to fill the short survey out. Let’s see what the consensus is around here regarding our future.

One person speaking out could be ignored, a consensus must be reckoned with.

 

Needed upgrades at the Jasper park

 

The city has closed Jasper Park for renovations including some new playground equipment, fresh paint for wooden decks and walkways, and other improvements, which we’re excited about. 

At the last council meeting, Mayor John Weaver said the city might connect the two parking areas to create a loop.  This is a great idea. Parking has been a nightmare there since they put in the waterfall and separated the lots. On the far end by the little playground, the parking spots are angled in the opposite direction of cars pulling in, so you cross your fingers and hope there’s enough room to turn around at the end of the lot and get your car into a spot. We like the waterfall, but would like to see a road connecting the lots, possibly behind the water feature.

We’re also glad some of the ducks are being relocated because they’ve gotten a little too big for their britches. If you’ve tried to enjoy a picnic lunch at the park recently, you probably got bombarded for your bread crusts or leftover fries. (The geese aren’t any better. One of our reporters was bitten by an unprovoked Canada goose, but the city can’t do anything about those because they’re protected.) The closing last week was unfortunate with the weather just warming up, but we’re glad to see the city making improvements to a widely-used and important part of our community.

 

Spring fever at the schools

 

And speaking of warmer weather...

Spring fever is at its height right now in our local schools. With the warmer weather comes the inevitable change in our moods - both physically and behaviorally - that gets students and teachers itching to finish classes and get out of the classroom. 

While Milestone testing is out of the way for younger students, high schoolers are gearing up for finals and end-of-course testing. With these still to come we encourage everyone to harness the energy that comes with warm springtime weather and focus for these last few weeks of school. Easy to say and hard to do, but you’ve come so far this semester to let a little restlessness derail your efforts. 

Even calm and even-keeled students and teachers can be affected by the spring fever bug, but during this home stretch leading to May 26th, keep in mind that a little more work now will make your summer all the more sweet. 

Inherit the Wind offers a lot to ponder

By Dan Pool

Editor

Over the weekend, I was lucky enough to catch the Tater Patch Players’ production of Inherit the Wind. There are a lot of things right about this play for Jasper audiences. It’s thought–provoking material pertaining to the rural South presented very well by a local cast.

The problem is that the theater was only partially-full; a solid crowd, but this much work deserved more filled seats. It’s a shame that with the limited opportunities for the arts here, it was not a sell-out every night of the run. It does continue this weekend, so you still have a chance to catch it.

For those who are averse to arts/culture, have no worries, the Tater Patch production of Inherit the Wind is something to ponder but not snobbish; casual attire is fine to wear and they sell beer at the theater – in other words you’ll have a good time.

There is never a shortage of people talking about supporting community businesses or proclaiming how they shop local. We will add to that list: Be entertained locally and some of those people need to put their time and money behind their Facebook posts and go see a local show. 

If anyone believes that the arts will march on without their support, recall the Sharptop Arts Center closed after many years due to lack of public interest.

Having a theater troupe in town makes the whole community look better and gives opportunities for both adults and kids to have something to do.

In this case, it should be easy to support the hometown thespians as their Inherit the Wind is a production that would draw applause anywhere. It is a top-notch play put on by local talent.

If you have ever thought about going to see the Tater Patch Players and haven’t, this is a perfect one to start with due to the subject which is tailored for a thinking, small town crowd.  

For those not familiar with Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee, it is loosely based on the, Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, TN in 1925, concerning the teaching of evolution in public schools. Or as the play refers it in some scenes, “Evil-ution.”

Tater Patch Director Nan Nawrocki said she did not pick it to be controversial and it is really not. The play is clearly sympathetic to the teacher who decided to open the book on evolution to his students, but not so one-sided that anti-evolutionists would run screaming from the theater.

Rather than being controversial, the play delves into familiar territory for anyone living in any small southern town. It provides a lot to think about on community dynamics, as well the weightier issues of religion, evolution and freedom of speech.

Among some of the great one-liners in the play:

• If the Lord wishes a sponge to think, it thinks.

• Show me a shouter and I’ll show you an also-ran. A might-have been. An almost was.

• What if a lesser human being has the audacity to think that God might whisper to him?... Must men go to prison because they are at odds with the self-appointed prophet?

• Sometimes it seems to me I ride like fury, just to end up back where I started. Might as well be on a merry-go-round, or a rocking horse.

• The ideas have to come out – like children. Some of ‘em healthy as a bean plant, some sickly. I think the sickly ideas die mostly don’t you?

• Then, why did God plague us with the power to think?

This is the last weekend to see Inherit the Wind at the local theater. If you want an evening out that leaves you something to think about and also an opportunity to support a great local institution, go see it. Remaining performances are May 19th and 20th at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 21st at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at taterpatchplayers.org.

Proceed, but with caution, on senior tax exemption

The Pickens County Seniors For Change meeting last week, where nearly 150 concerned residents came to hear about next steps for getting a senior tax exemption here, was  the largest meeting we’ve covered in months. 

We’re always thrilled to see citizens speak their minds, but we were glad our state senator Steve Gooch was there to offer reasonable precautions about the long-term implications of a tax exemption. 

Three things he said stuck out. 

First: “If you take away half the people in this room that are paying, the other half have to make up the difference unless the expenses are cut. If you eliminate half the taxpayers in the system the burden is a shift to the people that are still paying.” 

Second: “Whatever you put forward will pass. I can almost assure you. Be careful what you ask for because you’re probably going to get it,” Gooch said. 

Third: He said in every county he’s worked with on these has been a “significant” increase to the millage rate after an exemption passed.

Like commission chair Rob Jones (who was wrongly described at the meeting as backing the group) said, we’re not opposed to exploring the dollars and cents of what an expanded exemption would look like. (Pickens currently offers a full exemption for residents over 62 who have a household income of less than $25,000). 

However, this is not time to be hasty. Poor planning and research now could lead to disaster. And once passed, it can’t be quickly, if ever, reversed.

Gooch likened removing or changing an exemption once it’s in place as hard as taking away Social Security benefits.

According to the US Census, Pickens County has almost a 21 percent senior citizen population. If we enact something like Gilmer County – a 100 percent exemption for anyone 65 and older with no limitations, a.k.a. the Cadillac Plan – that’s a big slice of the taxpayer pie that we would need to make up. 

We realize Pickens Seniors for Change is looking at several types of exemption plans but we think Gooch is right that whatever referendum gets on the ballot as a straw poll will have overwhelming support, and because of this we need to be especially careful. 

Like Gooch, we urge our elected officials, Pickens Seniors for Change members and other residents involved in the process to take time and formulate the best option for the entire county, which includes not only seniors and seniors on fixed incomes, but young families, business owners and everyone else. 

Our commission board and school board, who have gone back and forth about who responsible for getting the ball rolling, need to belly up to the bar and work together because this issue is not going away anytime soon. 

We know our elderly population can struggle if they are on fixed income and we want to support them, but this is a big change and we need to do it right the first time.