Is A Year-Round School System Better?

Should children have so much time away from school?  Is the system of going to school for 180 days straight (minus spring and winter breaks), then having three months off for summer outdated and ineffectual?  Perhaps this sentiment is coming from the dreariness of a working adult, but sometimes I think grade school kids end up being away from a school environment for far too long after spending a very compressed period of time trying to learn everything they can.  So are the concepts behind having school year-round a better solution?

Hopefully you’ve all seen the statistics about how kids lose a large portion of what they learned throughout the year during their summer break due to inactivity, and a lack of experiences relating it to real life (a problem with American education as a whole, really).  Therefore the first few months of the new school year are spent recapping what they already should know, which then leaves less time to learn the new stuff.  Of course, this isn’t true for every student, but it is enough of a problem to create statistics for it.

The older I get, the more I start to agree to the idea of year-round schooling like they have in most other countries.  In case you were unfamiliar, there are still 180 school days total, they are just spread out through the entire year, for instance having 45 days in school followed by a 15 day break or having 90 days on and 30 days off.  There are already numerous studies and articles about the pros and cons of this system – the National Education Association website lists a few of the basics plus links to a few sites discussing the topic – and a quick google search can yield you all the results you could want for either side.  The biggest concerns come from a much wider range of life aspects like parent vacation time, babysitters, summer jobs, extracurricular activities, finances to run the school, complications between schools going year round versus schools with a full summer break in the same district/location, and so on.  All of this basically comes down to the fact that schooling is treated as such a separate entity from the rest of daily community life that there isn’t really a way to adapt a year-round schedule without a general community overhaul.

 

Year-Round or Traditional?

Year-Round or Traditional?

 

So maybe it’s not the year-round thing that I’m into, but the sense of a more immersive education experience, without overworking students (and teachers) for such a long time only to step away for three months of nothing.  Perhaps if there was a way to emulate the feeling of getting a break from the routine of going to school, but still be in a structured learning environment that can add to the learning experience, while also getting the community involved.  I think something like 45 days in traditional classes and 15 days in some type of modified school environment, like work studies, or mini-internships, something along those lines.  This way, students could get a chance to see how to relate what they are learning to the real world in a way that could lead to future job prospects or career goals, while making the whole education experience less rigid as a whole.

This wouldn’t be easy, of course, as it would require a hefty budget for things like transportation and supplies, as well as cooperation from neighboring businesses, and parent permission to take their children into real world-esque situations.

But let’s imagine for a moment that each school year, students would have a number of days in a typical school setting (45, 50, 90 or whatever) with normal classes for however many hours.  Then for a short “break” period (15, 20, 30 or whatever days) in which they could choose to go to a business or tech school or even college campus to experience something related to what they just learned in class.  For example, a freshman taking algebra, US history, American literature, and environmental science could choose from a select group of related outside places to learn more about one of those subjects that he or she finds interesting,  like a nearby history museum, or college campus lab, or professional lab to see how to put those teachings into practice.  Then, say, a junior taking pre-calculus, world history, and chemistry could also choose to go to that museum or lab to see how to apply what s/he is learning to real life.  This “outside experience time” could also help lead students toward a more accurate college or career path by letting them see firsthand what they could be doing with their lives once they leave school, instead of waiting until junior or senior year to suddenly make decisions on what to do next.  The student then could either choose to go back to that same outside environment during the next “break” period, or try someplace new.  Perhaps if I had a constantly rotating work-study/mini-internship experience during my grade school days in a field related to my eventual major (English) as well as other fields like science or engineering, I’d have had a better idea on what I wanted out of college once I got to that point.

And this “outside experience time” doesn’t have to be limited to high school students.  Elementary students could also have “breaks” to visit a nearby college, or perhaps a number of different businesses could send representatives to the school for a few days to teach them there, like having child-friendly workshops.  I would liken this to what schools (at least my school district) did for their “gifted” children, by setting aside time once a week  to let them attend a gifted program (ours was called Discovery Class) where they got to explore different concepts separate from what they were learning in regular classes, but more related to creative thinking and applications.  Side note: I was in class with the gifted students, but I never took the “gifted” test, so I wasn’t in that select group of students that got to go to Discovery, and instead had to stay behind in the classroom for “structured, educational free time” instead (we did things like play scrabble and that math card game 24).

Not that I'm salty, or anything...

Not that I’m salty, or anything

 

Even if we don’t get rid of the three-month summer break (it seems to work at the college level, at least?) we could still have this type of school year that broke up the monotony of going to the same building every day to do the same things with the same people in the same settings.  Even if it was only for one week out of the semester, students could have something different to look forward to, like an extended field trip to better sharpen their skills and hone their personal interests.

Perhaps this is too big a concept for most schools (and subsequent businesses and parents) to take on.  Maybe we as a society aren’t ready for this kind of all-inclusive, immersive, unified community life that fosters learning, growth, and development in students, while making sure that children aren’t letting any part of their education go to waste.  Maybe these “outside experience” field trips are asking too much from everyone involved.  Maybe everyone wouldn’t put the same kind of effort or enthusiasm in teaching kids about how to function outside of school.  But in a perfect world, this kind of education experience would not only be possible, but available for every child.

What do you think?  Do you have any experiences with a year-round school system?  Is it better or worse that the traditional school system we have now, or can they be compared?

Tracey Woodard
Tracey Woodard
tracey.woodard@franklinfound.org

<p>Our Senior contributor Tracey Woodard graduated in 2010 from Bucknell University with a BA in English – Creative Writing and Theater. An advid believer in the importance of public school education, she uses a mix of personal and learned experiences to express her thoughts on today’s most pressing education issues. She currently resides just outside of Philadelphia, PA.</p>

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