Saturday, January 13, 2018

On School Holidays

If we can't move or shorten the "winter break" because, let's face it. we're running on a Christian calendar with lengthy holidays around Christmas and Easter and no time off for any other religion (well, we recognize Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, but would we if they were at a different time?), if we can recognize we're not quite secular yet, then could we start the school year in August and end it in May with a June-July summer? June is getting hotter (h/t climate change), and August is often rainy anyway, right? I know it's tricky to change things like this, but it's silly to continue on with a system that isn't optimal for the people being served. In many states, they've already shifted to an August start.

In the high schools, after two weeks of eating and sleeping excessively, we come back for just two weeks of learning, quickly followed by review and final exams. For grade 12s hoping to get in to college or university, this is the most important semester of their lives, and they often come back sluggish and in need of a refresher that we don't have time to offer. If we start in August, then the break will fall at the half-way mark between the two semesters. Kids can have a real break without assignments hanging over their heads--that most don't actually get done over Christmas despite their best intentions. This year I had many students completely forget about a major assignment that was due after the break - and I had changed the due date from before to after on their insistence that they'd do a much better job with more time. And then January is a nice, fresh start for everyone. It will take some adjusting as summer camps shift their schedules, but it's clearly do-able.

Then March break and Thanksgiving are both centred nicely in the middle of the semesters. But, while we're at it, can we attach the March break to Easter (or just ditch that Easter Monday invention) and shorten it, then add a few of those days to Thanksgiving to have more even semesters? October is a beautiful time for a holiday, and the number of holidays breaking up our second semester makes it difficult to have any continuity.

I know it's not all about me, but these are largely school holiday that are placed in the worst arrangement in respect of school success. Frankly, I'm all for year-round schooling, but that's likely going too far for some.

ETA - This is timely: WRDSB is considering year-round schooling. But the trustees make the mistake of suggesting that our current model is for outdated agrarian purposes. Historian Kenneth Gold says otherwise:
“What school on the agrarian calendar actually looked like was a short winter term and a short summer term....And if you think about farming needs, that’s actually what makes sense....Kids in rural, agricultural areas were most needed in the spring, when most crops had to be planted, and in the fall, when crops were harvested and sold. Historically, many attended school in the summer when there was comparatively less need for them on the farm....the current school year was really a conscious creation...A long break would give teachers needed time to train and give kids a break. And while summer was the logical time to take off, the cycles of farming had nothing to do with it."
ETA - BUT, as much as I support year-round schooling, I'm not in favour of their proposed calendar, which makes no sense in terms of balanced semesters:

The first semester looks fine, but why add in a week in February and then leave three months, April, May, and June, without any breaks. If they have a leftover week of holidays, give the kids a long weekend - or even one Wednesday "catch-up" day each quarter. Then make the spring break fall right in the middle of the semester, rather than have 8 weeks in one quarter and 13 weeks in the next. Who does that benefit??


Owen Gray said...

I did my teacher training in North Carolina, Marie. School began there in the last 7-10 days in August -- because by the first of June things would get pretty hot and humiid. I don't think that schedule did anybody any harm.

Marie Snyder said...

We're typically sweating it out from early June to mid-September, and if it's going to be uncomfortable, better to be like that at the start of the school year, in August, when everyone's raring to go, than at the end, in June, when everyone's tired of it all and then has to write finals.