The question of summer

By Katerina Misa

Katerina is the Editor-in-Chief of the Talon and a senior staff writer.

Posted: September 23, 2014

Learning loss raises questions about year-round schooling

Everybody hold your breath, year-round education is slowly becoming more popular in America.

Should we get rid of the cherished idea of summer vacation to be replaced by more time sitting at a desk? Year-round schools in other countries have an average of 60 more days of school per year than most American schools, resulting in about a year more of education than the average American student over the course of four years. Countries with the best student achievement levels include Japan, Germany, New Zealand and South Korea, all of which use year-round schooling.

Should we add the United States to this list?

Summer vacation is a beloved American tradition.  It is helpful for high school and college students with jobs or other resource projects. It was originally created when children needed to help in their parents’ fields during spring planting and fall harvest seasons when America was an Agrarian country.  However, all youth experience learning losses when they don’t engage in educational activities during summer vacation, especially students of low-income families.

“There are studies that show that children slide back academically in the summer, but it doesn’t slide back so much for families who are resourced,” said guidance counselor Lauren Bae. “However, summer is a disadvantage for students that come from low-income families.”

Children of low-income families with fewer resources lose about two months of reading achievement during the long break, whereas children of high income families continue to progress in their reading skills. In general, children lose 2.6 months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills and one month in spelling learning skills over summer break, according to the Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Summer Learning.

“There are some students that do math camps or brain camps, so if students are motivated and are constantly learning, I don’t think they regress at all,” said Bae. There are many summer school programs geared toward staying academically active during vacation. However,  90 percent of summer school programs are for remedial purposes, giving them a bad name and a low enrollment rate.

Teachers have to spend 4-6 weeks reteaching material that students have forgotten over the break, shortening the amount of time spent in the school year learning new material.

“I think it is true there is some loss in retention over the summer, but there are teachers who say there is loss in retention from Friday to Monday,” said principal Nancy Johnson. “Personally, I have always liked the idea of spacing school out more during the year and perhaps providing more vacations that are shorter. It doesn’t help the retention issue but I think it does provide a few more breaks for people in the classroom that are working pretty hard. On the other hand, I think the students at Minnehaha feel the stress levels by the end of the year and need a break, and if you take away summer break you take away the opportunities that students have in the summer for travel and other participation in programs so it’s kind of mixed.”

“I feel like if we got rid of summer vacation, students would be exhausted,” said junior Yaphet May. “Summer gives us a break where we can come back ready to learn.”

The average American year-round school has the same number of school days as a school with a traditional calendar. Instead of nine months of school and three months off, year-round, single track schools will usually have 45 days of school and a 15 day break throughout the year. Single-track calendars do not reduce class sizes or  accommodate more students. Some schools run on a multitrack calendar which allows more students to fit into one school to avoid building more structures, saving on capital construction costs. However, when schools are open all year, operating and maintenance costs can increase up to 10 percent, interfering with budgets for already financially struggling programs such as arts, sports and other extra-curricular activities.

Junior Kendra Hutchinson explains that she knows people enrolled in year-round schooling who love it because they get the perfect amount of break, but they continue to remember what they have learned. Many students agree that getting rid of summer vacation would be beneficial, but the change would be difficult.

“It would be a weird and hard transition, but its seems like a good idea for educational purposes,” said sophomore Soren Birkeland.

Unsupervised children in the summer are more likely to engage in unsafe and unhealthy behavior such as the consumption of alcohol, drugs, and involvement in criminal and high risk activities.  Also, most children gain weight more rapidly, especially children of low-income families who rely on at least one nutritious meal supplied by the school. However, the short but frequent breaks during year-round schooling cause a problem for working parents.

“I think there are a lot of issues for students that don’t have money, such as child care. What if your mom was working? How are they going to find child care for three weeks?” said Bae. It’s good for children to have a long break and especially in Minnesota when the weather is bad. Do you want to be home for three weeks in the winter?”

“I think in Minnesota it would be a tough hurdle to get over to have year-round schooling because it is so engraved in our culture that there’s this summer, there’s this agriculture season after a long cold winter so I think we would be one of the last states to adopt something like that,” explained Johnson.

“These options are always on the table because there’s always pressure for schools to teach more and learn more and we need to keep our eyes on those things. However, there has been no serious discussion about moving in that direction.”

However, with such a compelling case for year-round education, one can only assume the debate will continue. But since currently, Minnehaha has no plans to create a year round schedule, at least for now, we can all take a deep breath and look forward to the sweet three months of relaxation.

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