Is It Time for a Year-Round K-12 School Calendar?
The coronavirus pandemic has educators re-imagining how K-12 education might look in the future. As part of WKSU’s “Learning Curve,” our “OH Really” team received a question about whether now might be a good time to transition to a year-round calendar for public schools.
In the first part of this story (see inset), we spoke with Paul von Hippel, a professor of public policy at The University of Texas who was previously at The Ohio State University. In the past 15 years, he’s authored two studies on what it means to transition from the traditional school calendar to year-round.
In this second part of the story, we’ll find out how it’s working in one local school and how some students feel about the possible change.
Open to change?
Another school year -- filled with masks and social distancing -- is winding down in Northeast Ohio. Students are preparing for three months of summer break. That’s something Hudson High School sophomore Charlie Herman hasn’t experienced for a while.
“I lived in England for a year-and-a-half, where I went to year-round schooling.”
It’s a concept that has the same number of school days, just distributed differently: usually about nine weeks of classes followed by three or four weeks of vacation. It’s often referred to as year-round school or a balanced calendar.
"At first I didn't like it, because I just felt 'time-consumed' by school. And then the breaks started happening and I was like, 'this is amazing,' because I got to travel places, spend time off; a week off was so nice during whatever has happening at school. That kind of just made me look at things differently, and now I'm really interested in year-round schooling. I think it's a cool concept."
Herman recently conducted a poll of his fellow students for their school paper. He asked how they would feel about a year-round calendar.
“Some of the responses were definitely emotionally charged. Some of them went on rants [such as], ‘while year-round school allows for even more distribution of breaks, summer vacation is completely nerfed in half – which is unacceptable.’ And then it just goes on and on. And then a lot of people seemed like they didn’t understand but were open to it. One said, I’m conflicted between the two because of having a long summer break. But learning for shorter periods of time and having shorter breaks seems nice, too.”
Taking AIM in Canton
Overall, students were against the idea by a margin of 4-to-1. But in Canton, Marianna Arvidson found the opposite. She’s the principal at AIM Academy, a Pre-K through 6th grade school which adopted a balanced calendar in 2018 to avoid what many teachers have noticed, the “summer slide.”
“Every year, our kids leave for a little bit and we'd come back and they would lose two to three months of reading. And so, by the time a child is in 5th or 6th grade, that can be a two-to-three-year gap if they aren't exposed to reading and literacy activities.”
Arvidson says they’ve seen surprising results, such as almost every one of the school’s third-graders passing the state-mandated Reading Guarantee. Or 90 percent of students being on-target for math skills. She chalks that up – in part -- to the enrichment that’s available during the breaks between quarters.
“We don't leave our families in the lurch. Remember, they need lunch, they need breakfast, they need some support with their emotional and social because a lot of our child and adolescent activities happen here in the building. So during those breaks we offer what is called ‘Bulldog Bonus Days.’ They're optional. In the morning, we do academics. In the afternoon, we do really fun things: we take them to the pumpkin patch, we take them to the park, we take them to the YMCA.”
Those outdoor experiences appeal to Valerie Libman. She taught Language Arts in Shaker Heights for about 20 years. She's retired now, but sent in a comment about the balanced calendar.
“I like the idea of year-round school, but with the summer being completely outdoors and experiential. I think that this is born of my two daughters’ comments years ago: they learned more in the summer at camp, than they did during the year in school -- because they got to do things.”
"You never know what a kid needs to be exposed to, to just get that spark."
Libman taught within a traditional calendar, but recalls the value of outdoor experiences even then.
“It levels the playing field when you get out. When you get kids out doing things, you find out that they have different kinds of strengths. And you begin to both look at them differently and have them develop those strengths.”
Back at AIM Academy, Principal Marianna Arvidson has seen that first-hand during the intercessions between quarters.
“We want our bonus days not only to include that academic piece, but to include that interest piece. You never know what a kid needs to be exposed to, to just get that spark. So we do try to embed all of that into the bonus days.”
A hard sell
But for all the advantages which Arvidson and Libman have seen from a balanced calendar, there can be disadvantages: teachers may not be able to take on summer coursework or perhaps a side job. And students, as Charlie Herman pointed out, really like having a long break to relax when the weather is nice. Still, he thinks students, parents, and school officials may be receptive to a year-round calendar in the future – after the coronavirus pandemic has passed.
“I think the students have gone through so much this year, and teachers and staff and everyone; I think the students are overwhelmed. And I think that it would just be a burden for them to do. I think the idea is good [but] I just don’t think it would work in practice at this very moment.”
Perhaps not right now, or even in the next school year. But Herman has another two years left in school – and several younger siblings coming up right behind him who also remember the advantages of a year-round school calendar.