November 20, 2017

A Case for Year-Round School

Year-Round School

As a kid I loved the thrill of returning to school after a 3-month summer hiatus. 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 routine.

It was always so fresh and exciting to see teachers and classmates again.

 

And later as a teacher, summer break 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 be revealed.

 

To this day, I still think of the demarcation of time in terms of the traditional school year.  January 1st may mean a new calendar year, but to me it means another academic year is half complete. When I meet someone’s child I always think in terms of what grade he or she is in.

 

But it’s time we rethink the traditional school calendar that’s been in place for over a century in America. Summer vacation was planned for the majority, agrarian families who made up the population in the late 19th century. As many bodies as possible were needed to harvest the crops during the long days of summer, and 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 the loss is even more severe.  Studies show that by the time students reach 9th 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.   When I taught high school English I was constantly reminded of the reading discrepancies amongst my freshmen college prep students.  Some read at college levels and others struggled to read at a second grade level.

 

 

Jim Shoemake, El Dorado Hills resident and principal at Casa Roble High School in Orangevale, fondly remembers the summers of his own childhood, when he’d play all day, free to be creative from the constraints of school. “Kids today can’t hop on their bikes and safely ride to the neighborhood creek or ice cream store and stay out all day like we used to,” he said. And as an educator Shoemake is all too aware of the learning lost during the summer months. “Teachers spend the first quarter of the school year just making up what was lost since the end of the previous year,” he said. “Standardized testing also takes away key instructional time.” Shoemake 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.

 

Not to mention many criminologists say juvenile crimes peak during the summer months.

 

I know many kids in our community get enrichment during the summer. The parental involvement in El Dorado Hills is one of my favorite things about living here. So if nothing else, 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 summer months?

 

Until then, I’ve thought of some solutions when funding simply isn’t there to finance summer programs for kids who don’t receive enrichment at home:

 

  • Educate parents about simple things they can do to work with their kids, regardless of their own education level.  Play Hangman, go to free library events, play board games together.  What other ideas have worked for your family?

 

  • Take advantage of inexpensive summer programs.  Many summer camps are pricey, but churches often offer very inexpensive programs that fill up quickly and have long waiting lists.  How can we support more of these?

 

  • Stay connected to your home school. Principal Shoemake credits dedicated teachers who care about kids and are volunteering their time during summer to be that engaging adult so many kids need.  If a student wants to feel connected at school, there are many opportunities.

 

I know year-round school isn’t a perfect system.  Buckeye Union school district tried it and there were definitely glitches.  I do think it’s worth it to keep the conversation going, though.

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