Thursday, June 14, 2012

Year Round School, please?

I've been on summer break for six days and already feel like a new person.

After clearing the clutter from a year's worth of classroom activity, I started in on my home.  And my health.  In six days I've resumed a daily habit of exercise and zoomed through closets in every room and the basement removing the clutter from nine months of running in and out, all things household having been tabled because teaching means a twelve-hour day, plus weekends.

In between running and cleaning I've read three novels and a professional book.

It's refreshing.  I feel great.

And yet, I still face ten more weeks of unstructured time before returning to kids and the classroom.

It's too long.

A school year is intense.  Even more so as kids and teachers face the current climate of testing.  For the classroom teacher, testing has meant the added stress of consulting data and making sure every child receives services to improve scores. It is high pressure work.  Sometimes if a task takes 30 seconds  to complete that can be too long.  The next expectation/need/focus of attention is already flying full throttle at classroom teachers.

For kids, it means cramming in multiple college-level courses or sitting for days on end and bubbling in answers on high-stakes tests.  (And then re-testing, remediating, re-testing).

So a break is welcome.  Unfortunately, eleven weeks is a ridiculously long break for both kids and teachers.

We all know about summer loss.  But what are we doing to learning and health when we cram a year's worth of instruction, sports, music programs, field trips, and make-or-break testing into nine months?

For the top students the intensity of the year can mean sacrificing health for grades as a recent New York Times article revealed students resorting to snorting amphetamines to garner the stamina to keep up with schoolwork--all at the cost of a developing brain and good health.

For struggling students, the long summer break is a wasteland.  With working parents (or parent) most low income students are confined to their block, their television, and a poor diet.  None conducive to learning.  The loss to learning over the extended summer break has long been documented.

I'm not a fan of a longer school day.  More cognitive work piled on top of more cognitive work does not mean that kids will advance.  In fact, our brains need some down time in order to make sense of what has been happening in our minds.  Only when we rest after learning is our experience processed by the brain.  We need rest in order to move learning into long term memory. (Here's an argument against teaching courses in a semester block.  Ninety-minute blocks everyday allow little to no time for processing.)

Some of these things we've known for years.  Others are just becoming apparent through continued brain study.  I'd love to give our Education system an 'A' for applying our new knowledge about how we learn to the school calendar.

Year round schooling could accommodate shorter breaks (two-three weeks) interspersed throughout the year.  Imagine students and teachers alike feeling, at regular intervals, as I do now. Rested and restored.  It might also improve the health of educators and reduce other costs.

Believe me, the tourism industry would adjust.

What's your take?  How long is your school break?  And wouldn't everyone benefit from rest?