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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

So I get asked a fair number of questions about year round school. Leslie, you were the most recent person to ask so I dedicate this post to you :)

What exactly is a year round school? Year round schools run on a schedule where there is no long summer break. Children attend the same number of days as they would in a traditional calendar school - no more and no less. Basically, the formula is 9 weeks in school followed by a minimum of 3 weeks off. In our situation, the kids are off for about 4 weeks in the summer (July), 3 weeks in October, 4 weeks in December/January, and 3 weeks in April.

Why offer a year round calendar? Well, there are definitely some documented, as well as personal advantages. I'll cover those in the next section. In Wake County North Carolina year round schools were implemented as a means to deal with explosive growth. Raleigh made the Money magazine Top 10 Places to Live list for a number of years, and the crowds descended. With so much undeveloped land and so much good press, the district literally could not build schools fast enough to accommodate the influx of students. In Wake County children are assigned to either Track 1,2,3, or 4. At any given time only three of the tracks are at the school. This enables the school to accommodate 25% more students without expending capital on school construction. It is actually a genius concept, but I am glad I am not in school administration. The constant cycling in and out of students has to add a thick layer of complexity to the job.

Why do I love the year round schedule? Overall, I prefer the year round calendar hands down. Here are the advantages as I see them:

  • Burnout. Right about the time the kids start to get into a rut at school they get a break. The kids seem more engaged in the learning process on this schedule. There is research that supports that the shorter breaks more evenly spaced are more conducive to learning, too. Bonus!
  • "Summer slide." I always felt obligated to do enrichment activities over the long summer break so that the kids didn't forget what they spent an entire school year working to learn. The kids didn't enjoy it, and frankly, neither did I. While we still read over the breaks I don't feel there is as much need to refresh the other stuff.
  • Travel. The frequent breaks allow us to tag along with Pat on business trips. It also allows us to travel during off peak times. The net result is that we have done a lot of traveling.
  • Endless summer. On a traditional calendar the kids started to get antsy by the end of July. As a result, I spent a lot of time (and money) scheduling camps and activities to break things up. Three weeks is enough time to relax and be a blob, but not so long that the novelty of being a blob has worn off.
  • Small school vibe. Even though there are 700 kids at the school it feels very intimate. Hannah has 17 kids in her class, and there are 17 more in the other track 4 second grade class. That is her world. The different tracks run independently of each other so it is almost like a small school within a school.
  • More friends. Because everyone isn't on the same schedule it just seems like your "circle" is larger. This is hard to substantiate with actual fact, but it feels true. Take that for what it's worth.

So what's the down side? I suppose there is a Yin to every Yang, but overall I haven't found too many aspects that I don't like. Here are the disadvantage as I see them:

  • Many schedules. If you are on track 4 and your neighbor is on track 2, then you don't have breaks at the same time. In fact, I debated actually categorizing this as a positive. We Belinskis tend to travel as a herd and keep to ourselves at times, and this has really pushed us to get out there more. This hasn't been an issue, but I could see how it could be. So I'm leaving it here as a negative.
  • Paradigm shift. We are still of the mindset that we see family in the summer. By the time we see parents in Montana and Canada there isn't very much left of summer! Going forward our rule is going to be one trip per break.
  • Small school vibe. I know I just said this was good, but there is a small problem with the small school! Sometimes there are kids that don't mesh well together for a variety of reasons. The controlling friend that you need to help your child distance herself from. The bully. Even the BFF - because you need to have more than 1 friend for Pete's sake! Again, this hasn't really presented itself as an issue, but I wonder if it might. When you have a large pool of students to place the classes get a breath of fresh air in the form of a new mix of students every year. Not so much in the smaller environment.

And there you have it. The essence of the year round concept. I really do prefer the year round approach, and we love, love, love the school that the girls attend. Whenever I am asked to compare and contrast life in California with life in North Carolina the year round calendar is one of the checks that goes in the North Carolina column.

Now, I could write a whole other post on the problems that we are facing in the Wake County school district. Namely, the practice of redistricting to achieve economic and racial diversity (which is a complicated and well intentioned concept that seems to be hurting more than helping), and the fact that different schools can be on different schedules (Rachel's middle school is on a traditional - NOT year round - calendar. Hypothetically, my kids might not be on the same schedule after next year!). With any luck we'll escape the redistricting dragnet. I think we are well situated in that regard. The different schedules, well, if you continue to read this blog then this won't be the last you'll hear of it. I'm sure.


Leslie M said...

Thanks for that dedication! This was very educational, and interesting from your perspective of course. I'm jealous that Hannah only has 17 kids in her class. Our bond did not pass this year -- by four bleeping percent -- so we're facing class size jumps a year from now if we don't get this puppy on the ballot again. And, as you know, grades 4 and up are 30 students already ...

I installed Statcounter on my blog today ... and I know you read me! Very fun. Check that out!