School calendars routinely include four weeks out-of-school between the beginning and end of the first semester. Only one full week off is routinely scheduled for the spring semester.

From Commerce – small – to Barrow County – among the larger ones – school districts have been looking at calendars in the past month or two. Without exception in the MainStreet Newspapers coverage area, those calendars feature a start near the beginning of August, four weeks off in the first semester and graduation about May 20-25.

Some schools now start the last Friday in July. Nearly all the others start sometime during the first week of August.

I have become a convert to starting school near the end of a week – Thursday or Friday – and immediately giving students and staff a weekend to “recover.” I became such a convert after hearing educators say, over and over, how much better that is for students.

That kind of start lets students and teachers get the mundane out of the way, understand the routine and lets them “ease into” the school year.

The mid-summer to early August start times started about 2000 as part of a push to finish the first semester before the winter break, also known as Christmas and New Year’s. Teachers said, sensibly, that it made little sense to test students – for high schools on block scheduling, end-of-course testing became a requirement about then.

Standardized testing became routine much earlier, but most of it was in the spring without block scheduling.

The scheduled time off became more and more A part of the school year, and schools started earlier, as time passed.

Now, we have kids going to school in the mid-summer. I heard lots and lots of complaints about that, but when school districts do surveys, parents inevitably pick time off over later school year beginnings.

This year we had 90-degree-plus temps in the first week of October, two months after school started.

The schools have long been air conditioned, but buses even now often are not. Those students who ride buses sweat through those rides perhaps six months of the year, even in the mornings when temps often get into the 80s.

With the schedules now, it is only one more step to a year-round calendar. That would eliminate the “loss of knowledge” that educators say some students now face. Some students lose information they have learned, teachers say. That is mostly lower-income and/or struggling students, we are told.

I suspect the school calendar is more important for the time off now than the testing before semester break. If “pilot” programs work out, schools may be out of the specified times for testing within a couple of yearS.

Calendars for the year will really get interesting then.

Middle-class families have become accustomed to October and Thanksgiving breaks. I have conflicting emotions.

I have little sympathy for students and parents who want the time off. I have great sympathy for teachers who want breaks to re-charge – anyone who has spent any time in a classroom should know the feeling.

Teaching takes tremendous energy and empathy. I have told several teachers this year that if I had a classroom of kids I would either lock them all up or kill them. I don’t have, and never have had, that kind of energy.

Year-round schools make sense to me. I’ve only seen it once and it was successful at the elementary level. Other school faculties hide from the idea. Parents recoil in horror – what about summer jobs or “time to be kids,” they wonder.

Work-based learning programs are nearly ubiquitous so the first is no longer a reason and the second is mostly for old fogies (I commonly use a different term) like me.

Ron Bridgeman is a reporter for Mainstreet Newspapers. Send email to him at ron@mainstreetnews.com.

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