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September 20, 2002

Year-Round School Has Its Advantages

Bethany Stevenson

Recently the topic of year-round school has raised its head again in the county. Many opponents claim that taking away summer vacation just isn't fair. But success in the year-round classroom proves that vacation isn't a reward for 180 days of learning, rather it is a hindrance to it.

By law the students must be in the classroom 180 days of the year. Once half-days, conference days, party days and testing days are factored in, not to mention those days when students' minds are wandering to the great weather outside, it is safe to assume that only 120 days are actually productive days of learning, on average.

These 120 days are spread through a nine-month period. Then the great summer vacation arrives for three free months with no formal learning. How much of those 120 days of input is lost over the 90 days of summer?

After reviewing math curriculums for grades one through six, I have counted at least six weeks of "review lessons" that are at the beginning and the end of the school year. The textbook manufacturers know that kids forget and 30 days of the year is targeted at relearning what they learned last year.

How much less wasteful would it be if those 30 lessons were spent in learning new material? After sixth grade, 180 days would have been accessed, giving those children a one-year advantage.

The old adage, "Waste not, want not" comes to mind. So often we complain that the kids just aren't learning as much as they ought to be, but this great waste seems to go unnoticed.

My own children are home schooled. We "do school" year-round. They use the McGuffey Eclectic Readers, the old reading books that were used starting about 1870. Each exercise is accompanied by the list of new words included in the piece. One recent exercise in the Fourth level book included the new words: immense, inhabited, cavalry, impetuosity, dexterously, deliverance and gallant. One could hardly say that an average fourth, fifth, or sixth grade child is familiar with all these words.

These words, taken from the fourth reader, were used for children in the fourth grade at the time the books were written. Have we wasted the time the children have in school? Have we dropped the standards? Or is it just the "dumbing down of America?"

At college, I spent many hours training to be an educator. During many of those hours we discussed on review work, re-teaching what has been forgotten, and the classic September mode of re-teaching how to learn. Educators know of this phenomenon. Textbook writers plan for it. Parents know very well how little their children pursue educational matters when given to their own.

Instead of wasting what valuable time they have, reorganize it. The year-round program gives the children the same amount of "off-time" as the 90-day summer vacation: it just breaks it up into smaller chunks so that it is not such a negative effect on learning. But the time they are in school is focused more on learning rather than relearning.

To the selfish parents who love the lazy days of summer, I say "Yes, I love summer, too," but be reasonable. Consider the effects of improved time management. Children, who can learn more in the same amount of time, will eventually be able to manage the world in a more effective manner as well.

As the saying goes, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." Just like the garbage that fills our landfill, wasted things eventually pile up around you, never to do any good.

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