By EduGuide Staff
Summer's not over yet, but it's a safe bet that soon the refrain, "Mom, I'm bored!" will be echoing all over the country.
Everywhere that is, except in the homes of children whose K12 grades schools have adopted a schedule known as year-round education (YRE) to improve time management for students and ultimately kids' grades. Those children return to school earlier without the traditional three months off in exchange for shorter, more frequent vacations.
While it might sound complicated, it's really just a rearranging of the schedule, not a change in curriculum.
YRE has been around for 100 years as an alternative to the traditional school year, which was built to accomodate farming families who needed their children's help in the summer. But ask Charles Ballinger, executive director of the National Association for Year-Round Education if that schedule makes sense today, and he'll tell you it doesn't.
"If year-round education were the traditional school calendar, and had been for over 100 years, and if someone were to suggest a 'new' calendar whereby students would be exempt from formal instruction for up to three months at a time, would the American public allow, or even consider, such a scheme?" he asked.
Perhaps YRE's time has finally come. Though still a small percentage of the total, the number of students enrolled in YRE grows every year in the U. S. Sometimes districts enter the program because of overcrowding, but more and more they're doing it for educational reasons.
There are two kinds of YRE: multi-tracking, in which students attend on different calendars to allow more to fit into one building (some are always on vacation) and single tracking, where all students go to school on the same schedule. There are advantages to both, depending upon a district's needs.
Multi-tracking has been used as an alternative to double sessions by districts that can't build bigger schools to relieve overcrowding. Stanford Research Institute studies have shown that under such circumstances, YRE can save some money, though not a lot.
The biggest reason schools convert to the new schedule in Michigan, where school construction is booming, is to improve education. Though research is inconclusive, educators and parents seem to agree that eliminating the long summer layoff means less time wasted on review each fall and quicker progress to new material.
"Our entire impetus is to positively affect education," said Rose Edwards, principal of Carpenter Elementary in Lake Orion, Michigan, which is enjoying its third year as a year-round school. "We know as educators our kids lose a lot over the six- to eight-week summer vacation. . . . With this schedule, we're able to move ahead.
"Our teachers tell us they typically used to spend four to six weeks in review. Now it's not even a week," Edwards said. "Last year ,our first-grade teacher moved into second-grade math with three weeks left in school. Therefore, they were reviewing second-grade curriculum when they returned."
Edwards said her school's experience reflects that of others on the YRE schedule: better attendance, fewer absences of kids on family trips and greater staff retention. In addition, Lake Orion avoided potential problems by offering transportation from anywhere in the district and a latchkey program before and after school.
During the periodic vacations Carpenter, like other YRE schools, offers what are called "intersessions." These give students something to do during their vacations, since it may not be time for summer camp or the family trip to Disney World.
Edwards chooses a different theme each time, with intersessions devoted to, for example, rainforests or dinosaurs. The "intersessions" feature guest speakers, field trips and lots of hands-on fun.
"It's almost like a camp experience," she said.
Edwards said the cost of YRE is only slightly more than running a school on a traditional schedule. There are several reasons. One is that as a school of choice, transportation must serve the entire school district, not just the neighborhood attendance area.
Another is an increase in salary for the school secretary, who works a few weeks more than others in the district. In addition, YRE schools must run air conditioning systems on hot summer days.
H. T. Burt Elementary in the Brandon School District in Ortonville, Michigan, which had YRE for three years before discontinuing it, cited extra costs as a factor in the switch back to a traditional schedule.
But according to principal Debbie Rader, that's at least partly because she built a higher level of staff development into her schedule than did other schools in her district. Burt went to YRE thanks to a grant; when the grant ended, so did the program.
"Our parents just loved it," Rader said, adding that her staff did, too. They worked at a less hectic pace, while their students progressed faster.
"I loved it too," Rader said. "It was the first time practically in my whole life -- a 20-year career plus years spent in kindergarten through 12th grade -- that I was able to go anywhere in May and October."
And that's another bonus. Families get to take vacations at off-peak times, when they're likely to find lower rates and smaller crowds. The only time it can be a problem is if not all the kids in the family are on the same schedule.
Cathy Besemer, a Burt parent who had two sons in YRE there, said that was about the only glitch (Besemer's older daughter was on the traditional schedule). Aside from one son's gripes about the shortened summer, she saw educational benefits to YRE.
"When they went back the next year they didn't start over," Besemer said. "It's almost like they didn't stop learning. It had so many positive things, we wanted it to go on forever."
Edwards has had the same experience. "We have a waiting list," she said. "If we had a middle school that was year-round, we'd probably really have a long waiting list. . . . We really feel it makes educational sense for the kids, and we like it being a choice. Because we know it makes sense for all kids, but it might not make sense for all families' schedules."