Fall school break looks good

Every spring, as the snows of winter take their interminable time to melt away, public schools declare a week-long break from studies.

Every spring, as the snows of winter take their interminable time to melt away, public schools declare a week-long break from studies.

Christmas to April is a long time to spend in a classroom, for students and for staff. For them, the spring break is probably just as welcome as feeling sunshine with some heat in it.

So why don’t schools program an extended break into the fall schedule, just like they do for spring?

Some school principals and members of the public school board in Edmonton have been asking themselves that same question. They are considering scheduling a week-long fall break around the Nov. 11 Remembrance Day statutory holiday, to give students and staff some time away at that end of the school year.

The suggestion makes sense.

There would be no instruction days lost — students would simply begin the school year four days earlier in the fall.

Our current school year still has vestiges within it of our agrarian past. Children were needed as labour on the farm during the growing and harvest seasons, hence the long summer break. But these days, holidays and breaks from work can be taken year-round, so people in Edmonton are wondering if families might prefer spreading their breaks from school more evenly throughout the year.

The Edmonton board’s website even suggests families may wish to take advantage of off-season travel rates for a less-expensive family vacation (hopefully someplace where the sun really does shine).

The concept of year-round schooling has taken root in Red Deer, but the idea remains well out of the mainstream. Perhaps a compromise, like inserting a week-long break into the fall lineup, would bring the same benefits of the year-long system, without society having to change gears to accommodate it.

Proponents of the year-round model point to studies that suggest academic performance is improved by shortening the summer break and inserting long breaks at regular intervals through the year.

Teachers, who feel the pressure of long daily duties by the end of each December and May, could probably attest that part of any improvement in testing results can be attributed to having a fresh teacher leading the class.

In Edmonton, Kathy Muhlehaler, principal at M.E. LaZerte High School, said their break would have Nov. 11 fall within it, and would also come right after a major diploma exam. Their school is experimenting with a modified schedule this coming fall.

In that case, a week off, prior to beginning a new instructional session, makes even more sense.

For the rest of us, this is still a discussion worth having, for families and for school board staff.

The school experience, to be most effective, is not a 9 a.m. to 3:20 p.m. routine, five days a week. Students need to take advantage of a wide variety of additional activities — sports, arts and social — at school, to round out the academics. This can make for long days for everyone.

Perhaps taking an additional week off in November — as is done in the spring — will ease pressures for all concerned, and give families another choice for their break times as well.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

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