The Answer to Academic Reform Students Have Been Demanding: Year-Round Schooling

The+Answer+to+Academic+Reform+Students+Have+Been+Demanding%3A+Year-Round+Schooling

Ava Hillbrand, Reporter

 The words “Year-Round-Schooling,” tend to evoke immediate groans of distaste- considering the disappearance of our precious 8-week summers, and facing the prospect of learning January-December. Despite initial contempt for attending school 12 months out of the year, year-round-schooling poses considerable benefits for both the social and academic lives of students and educators. With only 4% of schools nationwide currently operating on the year-round calendar, it begs the question, why haven’t more school districts jumped at the prospect of year-round schooling? 

 

It seems surprising, considering the overwhelming initial benefits, such as prevention of summer learning loss, money-saving benefits for the district, and the providence of more balanced breaks, that districts remain reluctant to even consider the prospect, let alone jump on board. However, with the changing times and inevitable societal progression since the 19th century, has our current school calendar become outdated? The origin of our 8 week summers stems from the need as an early agricultural society to allow students to aid in the harvesting of summer crops, thus posing a need for this set time off. But in no-longer having the same needs as our 19th-century predecessors, can summer break really still be considered a necessary commodity for modern Americans? 

 

With students arguing the outdatedness of the American education system, demands for reforms have been made calling for education to be more specifically catered to our technologically advancing society. Considering this call for modernization, should updating our current school year calendar remain un-included from the revisions? 

 

Preventing Burnout

Oftentimes, students begin to feel a sense of constant and imminent stress as the school year goes on and assignments and course difficulty increase. Pair this academic stress with a constant flow of extracurricular activities and often students find themselves living for whatever break comes next, whether it be a two-week holiday or simply a precious three-day weekend. Due to feelings of high-stress and academic burnout, students become more likely to only complete assignments with the bare minimum effort required to pass the course due to feeling over-stressed and burnt out- hence a student’s desire to just “make it to the next break.” This prevents students from getting the full benefits out of assignments and courses when the primary focus is aimed more so at getting the work done as quickly as possible, rather than actually retaining maximum information from the work. Katelyn Brennan, an academically motivated Junior at GSHS,  commented on how, “a large part of my motivation is for grades, so I will still continue to push myself even if I am very tired and burnt out.” Additionally, even motivated students like Katelyn can begin to feel overloaded as time goes on.

“As I’ve gotten more and more busy and taken harder classes, my overall focus and what I’m producing has kind of deteriorated,” Brennan said. 

Perhaps if provided with more consistent break time, students would no longer find themselves living for three day weekends and feeling unable to put their full effort into their educational opportunities due to their lack of motivation and energy. On a year-round schooling calendar, breaks are provided in every season of the year, ranging from 2-4 weeks each. This intermittent break schedule not only aids in the prevention of burnout for students and educators, but allows students time to follow their own personal ventures and interests more consistently throughout the year, giving them the chance to find their passions, and explore out-of-the-classroom learning opportunities in all seasons. The perks beyond burnout prevention stretch over a myriad of other categories- including vacation time. 

 

Benefits of Intermittent Breaks

With intermittent breaks throughout the year, students and their families could embrace multiple other benefits. On the current 9-month school schedule, students on average receive around 60 days for summer break, 10 days at Christmas, and 5 days at Spring break with a few days off during Thanksgiving. This breaks down to around 75 days of accumulative time off throughout the year on our current school schedule. However, it does not provide many opportunities for longer breaks beyond Winter break and spring break.

 

“I often feel like I get really tired of school and I want a longer break during the school year that I don’t get,” said a Sophomore at GSHS.  The current lack of balance becomes apparent as, “while I’m in school I just get really burnt out, and by the end of summer I’m wanting to go back to school because I get bored,” a dilemma in which many students can relate to. 

 

With year-round school, breaks alternatively occur after every quarter of the school year. These breaks range from around 2-4 weeks long. When looking at this time off, students would still have on average 78 days of vacation time, meaning there is no loss of days off. When breaking down the data in terms of time off and time spent in school, for the Year-Round School Calendar, break time and learning time are split 50/50, not including weekends. The benefits of breaks that occur intermittently throughout the year include the ability to take vacations during “off” tourist seasons, allowing travel to be less expensive, locations to be less packed with spring break tourists, and additionally allows for more flexibility for parents and their work schedules. Upperclassmen high school students are additionally expected to complete college applications and scholarship applications all while juggling the mounds of work that come with a normal academic course load during the school year. Intermittent time off would give these students a chance to dedicate their full attention to the applications that may define their futures- as well as give these students’ teachers time to complete letters of recommendation. Without this break time, students often miss out on opportunities they just don’t have time to take advantage of on top of regular school work.

 

Summer Learning Loss

Having brief and seasonal breaks from education poses a variety of benefits academically for students of all ages. During that notorious 60-day period spent recovering from the academic year, taking in vitamin D, one study using data from over half a million students in grades 2-9 (from 2008-2012) found that students are proven to lose “on average…between 25 – 30 percent of their school-year learning over the summer” (Brookings, Summer Learning Loss: What is it and What Can We Do About it?). Additionally, students’ achievement scores were found to decline over summer vacation at least, “by one month’s worth of school-year learning” (Brookings, Summer Learning Loss: What is it and What Can we Do About it?). Brennan commented on how most students become very academically sedentary during summer months, as “you’re not really exercising your brain. Most schools don’t even assign reading lists anymore.” Brennan additionally said learning loss is something she has struggled with, considering “I forget stuff after just a semester and then I have to review all my work,” let alone after 2-3 months without touching academic subjects from the previous year. Summer learning loss forces many teachers to spend much of the first semester of every school year reviewing a majority of content already learned by students in the previous academic year in order to successfully move on. This stunts students’ progress as they spend a long period of valuable time away from any academic encouragement, specifically those from “historically disadvantaged student groups,” such as lower-income families and school districts, as well as students from black and Latino backgrounds. Researchers also discovered over the period of summer break, “income-based reading gaps grew,” as middle-class students tended to show improvement in reading skills while lower-income students proved to show a more significant loss. On the year-round calendar, however, this summer learning loss can be more easily avoided and allows educators to seamlessly continue through the curriculum without having to dedicate time throughout the year to significant review. This calendar allows for learning to continue in a constant, and relatively uninterrupted cycle that keeps students engaged and consistent with their learning, all while preventing them from becoming burnt out or overloaded. 

 

The Downsides of Year-Round

Despite the benefits of Year-Round, the schedule can also create challenges- specifically for parents of elementary-aged children, and teenagers. Getting breaks throughout the year can pose issues in terms of finding adequate childcare for only short bursts of time- causing parents to say goodbye to those classic 2-month long summer camps. Due to the longest period of time off being 30 days for summer, vacations would be more limited in terms of duration as well. Even though break flexibility can have benefits, for working parents the battle with childcare can be tough, and would potentially force schools to provide childcare over breaks while parents continue working, thus potentially increasing district and state expenses. 

Alternatively, for teenagers, summer job opportunities can be a vital time to bring in a little extra cash. Many families rely on the income of their children, and or students take the opportunity of working 40-hour weeks to begin saving for college. Summer also arguably gives students a chance to pursue things they enjoy without the coupled pressures of school. Summer has become a time for experiential learning through summer camps, sports camps, summer study-abroad programs, and being outdoors. This aspect of summer is arguably necessary in order for students to receive a set time where they can pursue personal interests, which for many, contributes positively to student’s mental health and education. The chance to pursue personal interests or get outside in summer months can allow for more well-rounded and balanced students.