Publisher Kenneth Brown

From the Publisher: Should We Consider Year-Round Schools?

I was talking to my daughter and two other parents with children and they seem to have the same struggle: What do we do with our kids for 10 weeks in the summer?

We live in a time where in most families the parents work outside the home. That got me thinking: Why are kids at home in the summertime?

School is not only a place of learning, it is a social outlet. Students enjoy a second family of friends and even some teachers there; it’s a home away from home.

The question is: Has our traditional school calendar outlived its time? The original reason schools were closed in the summer was because the United States was an agricultural country and children were part of the labor pool necessary to work the fields and harvest crops. So I ask myself: Are we continuing this schedule because it’s a habit and tradition?

When we talk about year-round school, we’re not talking about kids being in the classroom 365 days a year. Currently, there are 180 days on instruction on the calendar for Maryland schools and we cram those days into a nine-month format. Under some year-round school models, children would attend classes for roughly 45 days, get two to three weeks off, go back to school for another 45 days, and so on.

I expect there might be some push back not necessarily from the kids, but from the adults (parents and teachers). How do parents keep their kids busy in the summer? Hopefully, young people are doing some summer reading and participating in other enriching activities. But the truth is, while parents are working, some unattended young people might be tempted to do things they are not supposed to. Too much idle time is not good thing.

A student who has parents with the means to send him or her to a fun or specialty camp or take extended vacations and getaways will find their summers relaxing and enjoyable. A child in a middle-class or low-income household whose parents may not have the extra income to do more activities may get bored with such everyday tasks as watching TV or babysitting their younger siblings. Fortunately, some young people will have summer jobs to go to.

Many teachers might like the idea of having 10 weeks off. At the end of the school year, they’re ready for the summer. To be able to spread out their income to cover the time that school is out is a big help. But imagine the benefit of having extended breaks every couple of months to refresh and rejuvenate.

As for students, most studies conclude that a continuous 10-week break is a huge brain drain. They recess with no studies and much of what they learned in the previous academic year slowly dissipates with video games, TV shows and idle time come into play.

It’s been said that it takes 30 to 45 days after a student returns to school to relearn before starting on new information. Isn’t that a waste? When kids take shorter breaks they retain the information better and it’s a lot easier for the teacher to pick up where they left off.

Approximately 97 percent of low-income students rely on schools for Internet access. Recognizing how essential the Internet is for education, is it a missed opportunity when kids don’t have access during the summer months?

Food security is another reason year-round schools would be a benefit to many students. Because of breakfast and lunch programs, these kids were consistently getting meals. Can we be sure they eat nutritious meals in the summertime when they are home? Fortunately, certain libraries and schools are serving breakfast under a U.S. Department of Agriculture program. (See page 9).

Three million students and 86 percent of public schools still operate on this traditional schedule, but year-round schools are slowly beginning to catch on. After all, 30 years ago, 98 percent of the systems were traditional.

I get that some parents like to take long summer breaks and would like school to open after Labor Day so they can have a longer vacations. Chances are that’s the way it was when they went to school.

There are some downsides to having year-round schools. Some parents will find it problematic about what to do with their students on a rotating two-week basis. Most parents don’t have enough vacation time to take off from work every time the children will be on break under this model. What about sporting events? How will the fall, winter and spring sport seasons be impacted? Those issues are something to think about and I am hopeful we can work around that.

For example, can we come up with enrichment programs at certain schools that would keep the doors open to support students and parents? Or, instead of summer school, why not have a mini session during the breaks, again and take advantage of that learning throughout the year.

Something else to think about would be the students who work summer jobs. It would be nice to have statistics on how many jobs are really available for teenagers. Maybe they can work an after-school job. Also impacted would be teachers who take summer jobs to make extra money, and high school kids who take college courses over the summer.

The economy is also a consideration. Many businesses, including amusement parks, beaches and hotels know that starting in June waves and waves of people will start spending money. We can see where they’d have a huge pushback because they’re dependent on these summer breaks. That’s why they want to keep the opening of school after Labor Day.

These are all good arguments. Still, I think that when it comes to educating our students, the positives outweigh the negatives in many ways. So, I think I’m sold on the idea that the time is now for year-round students. We know people will have to make adjustments and we know many people resist change. The question is what’s best for students.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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