MAKING THE GRADE: Summer is coming, how will we use it?

By Daily News • Last Updated 11:06 am on Thursday, May 01, 2014

Making the Grade | Janet Ralph

It hardly seems possible that it is May already and another school year is winding down. Although parents and the community have been very understanding and supportive of the added days needed before school recesses due to the many snow days, you do hear an occasional lament about summer starting so late.

This opens the door to another conversation that has been introduced on this column previously. The question is “should we be lengthening the school year?” Or put differently, “should we be going to year around school?”

Suggesting this is often met with resistance. I will be the first to admit that there was a time when I might have been one who objected to changing summer vacation. My children grew up in a neighborhood filled with creative friends. They were always busy and I enjoyed having them around.

When my grandchildren came along, we had a cottage on Lake Michigan where they spent much of their time. I felt badly when they reached high school and it seemed that so much of their summer time was filled with things like sports or driver education.

Maybe that model was okay for those times. Today I am persuaded that we have to re-think our approach to the school year. And just in time for this column, Diane Brissette, assistant superintendent at Greenville schools, forwarded two articles addressing this topic to me. Both reinforced things I already knew and opened my eyes to new approaches.

Data has shown us for some time that summer as we have known it affects children differently. Those who are fortunate enough to go to camp or travel and whose parents are in a position to expose them to new experiences and encourage them to engage in learning experiences often return to school having gained ground over the summer. Those who have not had these opportunities usually lose ground and return to the classroom further behind in the fall. This loss tends to compound over the years and it is literally determined by opportunities.

This is just one of many valid reasons for us to get serious about how we structure the school year. Let me point out another. At one time, schools started gearing up for fall opening in mid-August, sometimes starting classes before Labor Day.  But a few years ago our state legislature passed a law that schools cannot start classes until after Labor Day. This September will not be so bad, but in 2015 classes will not begin until Sept. 8. A place to start changing our attitude about summer might be by asking the legislature to re-visit this decision and give schools more flexibility in setting the school year calendar.

But that is only a beginning. There are many other possibilities, some already being tried by school districts or communities around the country. I think we need to change our terminology by ceasing to think of school year and instead think about learning year. Perhaps scheduling would not be the same for all students. The important point is that we need to start by identifying the needs of students and crafting programs that meet their learning needs. We cannot be bound by tradition in a world that is changing so rapidly.

Janet Ralph is president of the Greenville Public Schools Board of Education.

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