Friday, August 24, 2007

Let’s break up our summer vacation into pieces

Three months is a long time to sleep late. We’re talking about ninety-four days without leaving bed before ten o’clock. I couldn’t do it, though my son is giving it his best shot. It’s been roughly two thousand, two hundred and some odd hours since the end of the FISD school year and another 72 till the start of the new semester next Monday. And I know I speak for hundreds (thousands?) of my fellow Texas parents when I say that it’s coming not a moment too soon.

Now I could spend the bulk of this piece reminiscing about the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. Vacations. Trips to the lake. Camping under the stars. Sleeping in till noon and staying up till midnight. Ah, the memories of my youth. Certainly they’re fond memories, and I could recount numerous tales of heat-fueled shenanigans from my own summer vacations. But instead, I’m going to risk the wrath of the entire teen population of north Texas (and parts of Oklahoma) by speaking out AGAINST this annual tradition.

The idea of a “summer vacation” from school harkens back to the agrarian days of yesteryear. Back then, farms and ranches counted on family members as a source of labor. Kids had to take off to help bring in the crops. Chances were, even if school were held, the kids wouldn’t show up. This anachronistic practice endured even as we made the switch away from our farming roots to more urban communities. And this year, with a Potter-esque stroke of his pen, Governor Rick Perry conjured up the longest summer vacation in recent memory.

There are plenty of reasons to question the concept of a three month school break – particularly here in Texas. Instead, why not break up the vacation time into smaller chunks scattered throughout the year. A little more time around Christmas sure would be nice. While we’re at it, let’s extend spring break by another week and throw in a fall break to boot. All told, students would get the same amount of time away from the classroom. But spreading it out would solve a number of problems.

Let’s start with the kids. Ask any teacher and they’ll tell you the negative impact that summer vacation has on student retention. Most classes spend the first few weeks of every year just refreshing kids on what they learned last year. Tack on the extra time we’re seeing this year, and teachers may not get to new material till October! (Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but you get the picture.) Shorten up the summer break and you can reclaim several valuable teaching days every year.

Another benefit would be the ability to actually spend time outside during vacations. Face it… August in Texas is not the best time to enjoy the great outdoors. Instead of enduring 100+ degree days (and 90 degree nights), wouldn’t you rather take in one of our glorious state parks on a weekend where it would actually be nice to gather around a campfire? Or head to one of the theme parks on a day when you’re not stuck with a few hundred of your closest friends waiting and hour and a half for one of the water-rides, just to cool off.

Finally, consider the plight of the dual-earner families. How difficult is it to find child care for three months every year. With a divided school schedule, parents could actually space out their vacation time and spend more of it with their kids. After several years with the same company, I get three weeks of vacation. But there’s no way I can logistically take more than a week or so at a time. I’d much rather spend one week, three times a year than always playing catchup from missing a long stretch in the summer.

The idea of a summer vacation is certainly ingrained in our popular culture. But as my high school coach was fond of saying, just ‘cause you’ve always done it that way don’t make it right. (He was a coach, not a grammar teacher.) It’s time to take a hard look at the school year and how it impacts everything we do. And I bet that the kids would even climb on board, once they realize that sleeping late in January feels just as good as August.

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