Almost 2 million students attend year-round schools today, an increase of 400% in the last 12 years. Will your kids be the next to kiss that long summer vacation goodbye? If your school system is busting at the seams, your school board may already be considering the idea. Year-round schooling can reduce overcrowding, while avoiding the high cost of building new schools. How does it work?
"Year round" does not mean vacation-starved students and teachers. In fact, most programs operate on the traditional 180-day calendar. But instead of the usual 3-month summer vacation, most year-round schools have short 15-day breaks, or "intersessions," spread out over the whole year. To ease overcrowding, some schools stagger their schedules so that at least one group of students is always on break while the rest of the school is in session.
The good and the bad
Dr. Charles Ballinger, executive director of the National Association for Year-Round Education, says that students retain more when breaks between instruction are shorter, and teachers don't need to spend as much time on review.
But the thought of a year-round schedule strikes fear in the hearts of many parents. According to the US Department of Education, parents' main concern is finding childcare during school breaks. Timing also gets tricky for families who have children on different schedules, and kids may miss out on traditional summer activities, such as camp.
Starting new routines
Karen Waugh, spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Education, says that the YMCA and other daycare providers in her state have altered their schedules to accommodate the growing number of kids on year-round schedules. In Tompkinsville, KY, Stacey Proffitt, a working mother of two, hasn't felt that relief: "Family members look after my kids. The new school schedule left me scrambling for care during the Christmas break." But Donna Bartley, also of Tompkinsville, has found financial relief in the new schedule: "I have one child in daycare full-time and one in a year-round school. Now I can break up the amount of time that both kids need care, instead of paying for one long stretch over the summer."
What does the research say?
Arizona State University's College of Education conducted a national study of year-round education programs in 1993. It concluded that year-round schools work best when they adhere to the following guidelines:
- Year-round programs must coordinate with parents' lives and community activities;
- They cannot be limited to just one or two schools, and
- They must update their curricula to compliment the new schedule
For more information, call 1-800-601-4868 and request a free copy of the digest Year-Round Education: A Strategy for Overcrowded Schools, or visit the National Association for Year-Round Education's website.