A group of parents, educators, and community members who have been reviewing the proposal have concluded that the changes will not meet the intended objectives and are even likely to have negative outcomes for students, educators, and the community.
Summer break provides critical learning and re-charging time for educators and students. Learning occurs outside of school as much as it does in school, and the current summer break allows for a wide range of extra-curricular enrichment and rejuvenation opportunities that would not be possible at other times of the year. Whether it be summer camp, workshops and institutes, exploration of a new environment, extra-school employment, travel, gardening, farm work, fishing, sports, free-choice reading, making new friends in multi-age settings, reinforcing social and family bonds at community events and reunions, investigating a new hobby or interest, learning the important skill of independent or self-directed play, or taking adequate time to reflect upon and re-build excitement for the next school year, many unique experiences and growth opportunities are optimized by the availability of the expanded period of time and a suitable physical climate. Although Calendar 2.0 is intended to minimize regression of skills- presumably the skills targeted by standardized testing- there is no evidence to show that shortening the break by two weeks will actually have any effect on regression. What’s more, the loss of these critical weeks could impede the acquisition of other skills and capacities that are vital to child development and well-being but are harder to measure. These include developing a life-long love and understanding of the natural world, emotional and physical health, community and family bond strengthening, and self-discovery. Many adults cite a transformative, non-school summer experience in childhood as the key event responsible for invigorating their school involvement and providing them with a tangible link between their learning and their future career and lifestyle. These critical developmental opportunities are threatened by the move to a calendar that reduces access to activities uniquely suited to the current summer break period. Perhaps the term summer “break”, which may connotate an interruption or halt to learning, should be renamed summer “enrichment” to properly represent the period in which interests are pursued further, new skills acquired, and when knowledge gained in school is applied and reinforced in the real life setting for which it is intended.
Summer in Vermont is short and special. There is a reason that people come to Vermont from around the country and the world in the summer; there is hardly a place that offers a richer diversity of outdoor and cultural experiences in a more beautiful landscape and climate. For those of us fortunate to live here, June through August provides for the ultimate “stay-cation”, and the range of experiences for children, whether of the structured type for childcare and enhancement purposes, or of the simple, unplanned and spontaneous variety, is unparallelled. Many of these opportunities are simply not available during the times proposed as vacation (late October, early March, and early May) in the proposed expanded calendar. Local recreation opportunities, such as fishing, picnicking at a local beach, hiking, tending a garden plot, or riding on the bike path, tend to be easier to plan and inexpensive in the summer- further encouraging family time and new experiences. What’s more, research shows that children are much more likely to unplug electronics and spend time engaged in other activities when the weather is inviting and recreation options are plentiful.
There is no evidence to support the likelihood that the proposed calendar will improve student outcomes. The proposed calendar is purely experimental and there is no data to show that it will have a positive effect on outcomes. Indeed, what constitutes a successful “outcome” has not been identified, nor has any method of measuring efficacy of the change been included as part of the proposal. The online information provided for the public cites the “Agenda for a World-Class Education System” as the impetus for the change, yet there is no evidence for how or why this particular potential reform- which has mounting unsolved practical considerations- would meet any of the broadly defined goals of the agenda.
Intercession programming will likely cost money and/or take money from other student programs. Those committed to promoting a top-notch education system understand that improvements sometimes come with a price tag, but those costs must be justified by compelling cost-benefit data. This plan does not provide any convincing research or model example to support an additional community investment or removal of current programs. While the proposal claims that the new calendar will be a budget- neutral change, a plan of how intersession programs will be organized, housed, staffed, and students transported still not been explained. Proponents of the change have also agreed that additional climate-control infrastructure may need to be installed in some buildings, but there has been no mention of how this would be paid for. The suggestions that funds could be transferred from other areas such as “traditional summer school and after school tutoring programs” to cover the cost of the intercession programs is worrisome and parents, taxpayers, and school boards should be concerned.
The new break periods will create child care difficulties for working families. Most full-time workers have only 3-4 weeks of vacation per year and will still need the same amount of childcare if the new calendar is implemented. With the new schedule, they will be required to find childcare during times in which very few options exist. Certainly, some options will arise to fill the gap, but with warm weather-dependent infrastructure unavailable (traditional camps), college students engaged in their studies, and many institutions that house summer programs obligated to give priority to their “in-season” schedule and users, these options are likely to be limited, competitive, and expensive.
The new calendar will make the school-year “treadmill” run even longer. A goal of the new schedule is to “ provide a time for families and school community to decompress and re-charge” and “get off the school treadmill” during the expanded non-summer vacation times. However, it seems unlikely that teachers and staff will be truly experiencing these breaks as time off if it is simultaneously expected that the school community will be organizing and running the remedial and enrichment programs, “analyzing student data”, “customizing individual learning plans”, and attending workshops and trainings. In fact, preparing for the intercessions programs will likely require advance planning during regular teaching days, further stretching the already limited time of staff and educators. Families with children who have been recommended for remediation will also be limited in their ability to enjoy time together, vacations, or mere down time, as they will be required to support their child attending the program, both logistically and financially.
The calendar is incompatible with those of other institutions. There are long-standing partnerships with local universities and organizations in the Champlain Valley that have mutually beneficial relationships (student teachers, field trip programs, visiting artists, etc.) with the public schools and some will not be able to accommodate the needs of the school if the calendar is changed. Preparation time for nationally organized tests (such as AP and SATs) and application deadlines could also be impacted and more pressure put on educators to “cram” information into a shorter time period. Interscholastic and town sport playoff seasons could become a logistical nightmare if they run further into the summer season and compete for limited venue space. Other cultural, civic, and sports organizations who follow the school calendar may also find the proposed calendar disruptive to their operations and even impact them financially if students can longer participate in their programs because of schedule conflicts.
Older students need an extended period available beyond the school year if they are to gain vital work, internship, and life skill experience. High school students gain valuable life experience as well as money for college by working and volunteering in the community during the summer. Many employers depend on these students to staff restaurants, beaches, camps, and landscaping businesses and are only able to offer temporary employment during the busy tourist season. Students may find it difficult to find jobs if their availability is shortened by several weeks. Many high school students also participate in academic, cultural and sports programs organized by colleges, universities, and other non-public grade school institutions that run for the duration of the current summer break and a change will impact their ability to participate.
Separate remediation sessions during school-year vacations could stigmatize and demoralize children who are struggling academically. Every attempt should be made to differentiate education during the regular school session so that all children feel supported and included in the learning community. Administrators, teachers, and staff do what they can to immediately address learning concerns and provide in-school support such as guided study, cooperative learning with peers, tutoring, mentoring, and other in-school special education services. Traditional summer school provides focused study in a camp-like setting for students who would benefit from additional remediation. If this system is inadequate, then changes should be made to maintain the framework of inclusion during the school year. Requiring remediation for some students during times when their peers are enjoying vacation could potentially have a devastating effect on self-esteem and result in further eroding their participation and enthusiasm for school. These children are entitled to breaks as a much as their peers and may require them even more.
New England kids do not have as much focus for long school days in the summer. A well- run, traditional summer school has many opportunities for creativity and tends to occur after several weeks of break when students and staff are refreshed. The days are typically shorter, allowing time for ample physical play in addition to school time, and often take advantage of curricula structured around outdoor-based studies. However, by the end of the regular school-year, when buildings become oppressively hot, the focus of children who have been indoors for many months naturally shifts to thoughts of outdoor play and summer activities. Parents and teachers alike know well the palpable sense of anticipation that begins to build as the temperatures rise and young minds turn their attention to activities outside of the school building. Similarly, starting school when summer is still fully “in-swing” and temps are high is not conducive to optimal learning. In fact, it is climate that has been the natural architect of the New England school calendar, and not the “outdated agrarian model” that is often mentioned. Historically, rural districts typically had vacation in the spring and early fall, during labor-intensive planting and harvest times. The June- August break arose post-industrialization from the the simple reality that buildings become stifling in the summer, and to this day few New England schools are outfitted with air conditioning or designed to accommodate learners in the summer. In a time of tight school budgets and concerns about increased consumption of fossil fuels, retro-fitting schools at a significant cost for an uncertain and even deleterious outcome seem unwise and wasteful.