Modern public education tends more and more to throw the baby out with the bath water. If the system works for the majority of the students, we tend to ignore that fact and panic over the minority. It is imperative that society address the fact that about 30 percent of our pubic school students cannot read or do math (let alone not bully!), but doing so shouldn’t have a negative impact on those students who do well—or their families.
I had a post-Thanksgiving coffee with a friend of my children, who is the facilities manager, a year ‘round position, at YMCA Camp Olson in Longville, Minn. After we caught up on our lives, we talked about the future. I told him that the school district in Winona was exploring options to change the school calendar. One option would reduce the summer vacation break to six—or possibly eight—weeks.
We agreed that such a change, especially if the idea became widespread, or even statewide, would have a drastic impact on the hundreds of camps in Minnesota. It is doubtful that without enormously expensive changes, such as winterizing buildings, these camps could survive if families were faced with only six weeks in which to pack summer activities and travels with their children.
Also of concern in Minnesota is that many communities in the north woods of the state rely on not only summer camps, but summer residents and tourists, for the tax dollars and shopping dollars they need to operate city services and a business sector.
Changing the school calendar will have a negative impact on more than businesses and municipalities, I fear. The 45-15 calendar—forty-five days in school, fifteen out of school with a six-week summer break—is by its very nature more expensive. Schools built on the assumption that they would be vacant during the summer months were not fitted with air conditioning, for instance, and the expense to add that is enormous.
Of course, the fact that adding air conditioning to older buildings is expensive gives life to the argument that all the older elementary school buildings should be closed and a bi, new elementary school built. More expense.
One of the arguments for year ‘round school is that students will have less time between instructional periods, and it is hoped that they would be less likely to forget material studied before the break. To bolster the achievement of students who are underperforming, special classes would be held during the off-times to help them catch up with their peers. That would result in more expense: teachers to teach those classes, plus administration and support staff.
Other school systems—notably charters—have addressed illiteracy and the underlying problem, often having to do with family and neighborhood expectations. Lengthening the school day for those students and more individual and direct teaching methods have worked, as well as clearly identifying goals and expectations.
However, that requires a change in attitude in the educators, not just a change in the calendar. That is a much harder fix, but one that in the long run raises achievement levels for the underperforming students, without penalizing the students who do perform over and above the expected levels (as well as their families).
Children should have leisure time to explore beyond the classroom. They should have more and different adult mentoring than is offered by being in a room with one teacher day after day. Families are often that resource, as are people such as summer coaches and summer camp counselors and teachers.
By lumping all our kids into the same category, we deny enrichment (languages, advanced computer work, sports, environmental awareness, arts, science, math), rejuvenation (found in reading, contemplating the world, traveling to other places, sleeping under the stars) and an expanded world view to kids whose creativity and outside-the-box thinking would be stifled by more days in a classroom. We deny them the chance to apply what they have learned in school to the real world. We also deny them time with their families.
Let’s focus on the whole child and all the children before we jump into a new calendar that may not be the fix at all.