February 22, 2018

A Case for Year-Round School

By Julie Samrick

As a kid I loved the thrill of returning to school after a 3-month summer break. Crisp, back to school clothes were worn with pride.  Clean pencil boxes and stiff cartons of crayons were handled carefully those first few days back into the new routine.


And later, as a teacher, summer vacation was an essential recharge for the next school year. I felt the same joy every night before my first day of school then too, anxious to meet my new students, curious for the unique dynamics that would set the tone for the year to come.


To this day, I still think of the demarcation of time in terms of the traditional school year.  And when I meet someone’s child I always think in terms of what grade he or she is in.


Yet it’s time we rethink the traditional school calendar that’s been in place for over a century in America and alter the much beloved summer vacation.  That long break from school was originally planned for the majority, agrarian families who made up the population in the late 19th century, when as many bodies as possible were needed to harvest the crops during the long days of summer. It was more hard labor than a vacation, to be sure, but now 99% of us have other forms of livelihood; do we still need all that free time at once?


Many American school children are enriched during the summer. They may go to science camp, or more importantly they spend time with adults who offer sustained learning opportunities, sometimes simply just by being there and engaging them.


But there are plenty of American kids who are left to do, well, nothing. A friend of mine who works in the Oakland public school system says that many of her fourth grade students were sad to be out of school this year because they had nothing to do and nowhere to go this summer. For ten weeks, the television may be their only teacher and companion.


Studies show that all children lose skills gained during the previous school year, on average one month lost for every month of summer, but for kids who are not academically engaged during the summer months the loss is even more severe


By the time students reach ninth grade, two-thirds of the academic achievement gap between peers can be attributed to the learning loss that occurs during the summer months of the elementary school years, which only compounds with each passing summer.  This chasm deepens so much year after year that by high school it’s common for some kids to read at a college level while others are still reading at a second grade level. 


When I taught high school English before having children of my own I was constantly reminded of the reading discrepancies among my 9-12 grade college prep students.   


Principal Jim Shoemake oversees a public high school in Northern California. Though he fondly remembers the summers of his own childhood, he still thinks it’s time we change the traditional school year. For one thing, “Kids today can’t just hop on their bikes and safely ride to the neighborhood creek or ice cream store and stay out all day like generations past,” he said. “That’s a long summer to just be idle.”  Criminologists agree, saying juvenile crimes peak during the summer months.



Even more importantly, the principal is all too aware of the learning lost during the summer months. “I see teachers spending the first quarter of the school year just making up what was lost since the end of the previous year,” he said. He believes a 8:2 ratio would be the perfect balance, a cycle of 8 weeks of school and then 2 weeks off. “Push kids hard for 8 weeks and then let them be kids for 2 weeks,” he said.


Even if some kids do get enrichment during the summer months, wouldn’t it be nice to have year-round school with more intermittent breaks so as not to worry about the learning loss that happens to all students at some level during the long summer break?


Until then, all parents can do simple things to help kids learn and stay sharp over the summer and anytime. 


Here’s how:


  • Engage your child in “brain teaser” activities. Play a game of Hangman with a simple pen and paper to work on spelling and critical thinking- short words for younger kids and longer phrases for older kids; play cards and board games together.


  • Go to free library events and pick up books your child is interested in while you are there.


  • Take advantage of inexpensive summer programs.  Many summer camps are pricey, but churches often offer very inexpensive enrichment camps.  Don’t overdo it, but sign your child up for a session.


  • Stay connected to your home school. Dedicated teachers are often there working in the school garden or sprucing up the computer lab over summer. Arrange for your child to go with other friends to help.


  • Keep television and other technology to a minimum.
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  1. I disagree with Principal Shoemake that an 8:2 ratio would be the “perfect balance.” It takes 2 weeks for children to just decompress from the pressure cooker that is public education these days. And “2 weeks off” will effectively translate to 2 weeks of homework/special projects/make up work. Case in point… winter “break.” — Now here’s a case for summer… “Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water-bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud-turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb, brooks to wade in, water-lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hay-fields, pine-cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets; and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of his education.” ~ Luther Burbank
    And here’s another one… http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2128695/National-Trust-launches-bucket-list-campaign-50-things-children-sofas-wild.html — Kids today CAN indeed just hop on their bikes and safely ride to the neighborhood creek or ice cream store. Parents CAN unplug their household screens. California public school kids these days don’t have 3 months of free time all at once. They get 9-10 weeks. And do they still need “all” of that?… Unequivocally yes.

  2. … and to further build the case for summer vacation we have… http://magicalchildhood.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/100-ways-to-make-today-magical/

  3. That is a complicated issue indeed, but effectively doing away with summer is not the solution for those children.

  4. Ann Van De Water says:

    I agree with you, Julie. Although my kids are fortunate to have fun, enriching summers with Girl Scout camp, art camps, water camp, music lessons, reading, family vacation to the East coast, family vacation to Tahoe, swimming and other activities with friends, MOST American kids DO NOT have such a summer. Most parents cannot afford these activities and most parents have to work outside the home.
    My Dad was a child of poor immigrants. He did not even learn to swim until he was in the Army. He and my aunt have told me how horribly long, hot, and boring summers were.
    However, I suppose the 8:2 week ratio mentioned above just means kids are home without enrichment two weeks out of every 8, rather than one huge chunk in the summer.
    Since most public school districts continue to suffer budget cuts, I don’t see any chance of adding free enrichment programs in the summer or during other breaks. There was a really neat piece a while ago (I think on Dateline) about a school disrict in Cleveland, OH that had obtained a grant and was able to offer underprivileged kids a wonderful, free, summer program 8-5 every day for 10 weeks. Reading, writing, math, science, art, music, swim lessons, hiking, field trips to museums, etc. were all part of the program.

  5. What do you mean there is nothing to do? I think you might mean nobody is structuring a child’s time. Seems to me no matter the income level there are plenty of things here on earth to do. Is knowledge only gained from superb trips or teacher driven lessons? Perhaps we need to stop making knowledge king pin and simply take time for one another. I vote four week vacations for all adults – well at least four weeks. Likely we need to require it be taken. Could we cross train as the norm? Do we need to think the only way through life is . . .

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