When Ameen Al-Dalli was a sophomore in high school in 2014, each weekday before sunrise he would walk the quiet, tree-lined streets of Fairfax, Virginia, to the school bus stop. Because Ameen’s public school, about five miles away, started at 7:20 a.m., the bus came early. “I feel drowsy and just like, ugh, I want to go home,” he told National Geographic filmmakers during his walk in the gloom.
This wasn’t always the case for high schoolers. A few generations ago, the bell rang around 9 a.m. for most American kids. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 75 percent of schools surveyed in more than 40 states for a 2015 report started before 8:30 a.m., with a significant number starting in the 7 a.m. hour.