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What The...: School in summer? Why not?

An astute reader in Norwich recently sent a letter to the editor of The Day. He suggested something that a lot of people have been thinking about for a long time.

His idea: school all year round.

My idea: use year-round education to expand curriculums.

Year-round school doesn’t mean more days in school. It means shorter summer vacations and more days off during other months.

The advantages are many:

  • The big one: kids avoid the “summer slide” when they forget a lot of what they learned before summer vacation.
  • Teachers avoid burnout with more breaks from their difficult and demanding jobs.
  • Kids don’t spend a long, boring summer away from friends.
  • More outdoor school activities are possible.
  • More flexibility for smaller classes, school resources, curriculum, sports programs, and remote instruction.
  • Teachers may have a chance to work extra days and make extra pay.

And let’s remember why we have a long summer vacation. The tradition goes back to the agricultural economy. Kids were released from school so they could work on the farm.

Gone are the days when families needed child labor in the field. Today the need is for citizens who are not just well educated but broadly educated. They need skills for jobs, of course, but they also need more contact with nature, experience in gardening and other outdoor activities, opportunities for leadership, and more vigorous exercise and group play outdoors.

Summers are good for such an expansion of curriculums. School would be a lot more interesting if kids spent more time outdoors. And they’re less likely to get bored if their school week is only four days and every month includes a short break.

There’s a big disadvantage to losing the traditional summer break. It eliminates or reduces other educational opportunities, such as family vacations, summer camp, and engaging in the kind of play that makes childhood fun.

But take a look at what actually happens. Take a drive through a residential neighborhood in the middle of July. Count the number of children who are playing outdoors. It’s probably about the same as the number of children working in fields.

And how many summer days are really dedicated to family vacations? How many weeks are spent at camp (by those who can afford it)? How many of these activities could be taken care of in a three-week vacation and a summer of four-day weekends? How much of the summer is spent in front of a computer screen or television?

Needless to say, any such change in the school year would require a lot of creative thinking and changes in traditional family plans. But for every necessary change there are innumerable alternatives and opportunities.

Families could still take vacations, and vacations approved as educational could replace certain school time. School could include summer camps with an educational focus.

Meanwhile, kids remaining at school would enjoy smaller classes and more attention.

Lots of short, scattered breaks opens opportunities for remedial classes and tutorials for kids who aren’t keeping up. They also allow for special enrichment experiences, such as class trips, preparation for tests, organized volunteerism, and special class projects.

The COVID-19 crisis has taught us that we can adapt, that we can find creative solutions, and that the solutions can be valuable even after the original problem has been solved.

We should be applying the same ingenuity to education. I think everyone recognizes that our system of education has problems. It isn’t as bad as some people think, but it could sure use some improvement.

The complete reorganization required for year-round school opens possibilities for many solutions.

American schools aren’t as bad as many think, but according to the U.N.’s Programme for International Student Assessment, which assesses what students actually know, we aren’t in the world’s top 10. Our dreams of greatness are summer vacation.

In that most other countries use year-round education, we would be wise to consider rethinking our antiquated scheduling, and we should look for ways to use a new annual schedule to make new advances in preparing today’s kids for tomorrow’s world.

Glenn Alan Cheney is a writer, translator, and managing editor of New London Librarium. He can be reached at glenn@nllibrarium.com.

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