A week ago on Monday afternoon — the time when I usually write this blog post — I was in a car headed back to Richmond after a long weekend visiting family in Connecticut and upstate New York. Today, I’m in my office, having met my advisees last week and my first group of new students today. I’ll meet my second class tomorrow and then the school year will be well and truly underway.
Or sort of. It begins again later this week when we take our daughter to the airport for her flight back to college. While we drove her up last year for orientation, this year she’s on her own. We got most of her stuff up to New England last weekend on our trip; her grandfather will get it the rest of the way to her when she moves back into her dorm. So really the school year begins on Thursday.
Or again, it begins the day after Labor Day, when my son returns for his last year of middle school. I’ll have finished two weeks of classes before my son gets back to school.
This time of year is tough for academic families, and it makes me wonder why we continue to follow the quasi-agrarian calendar when it’s so clearly irrelevant to most kids in school. And even if it were relevant, the timing is off: there’s all kinds of farmwork still to be done, as the farmers who run my CSA can attest. Most of my friends who are also parents are either scrambling, or have already scrambled, to find quality care for their kids whose camps have ended but whose schools haven’t begun yet, even though our schedules are now fully booked.
I’m grateful that we don’t have school all summer long, don’t get me wrong. I need the summer break — or some break — to regroup, recharge, get some research done, plan for the fall. But I’m willing to entertain the notion that I could work differently, and I’m quite sure that children in K-12 could. I’m not alone, of course — there are year-round schools all over the country, and proponents of the change have a good deal of research on their side about learning loss over the long breaks, among other things, to suggest that a schedule of, say, 10 weeks on, 3 weeks off, might actually work better for most people. (Many other calendar models have been proposed, some retaining at least a month of summer vacation, and most not lengthening the school year significantly or even at all.)
It’s hard for me to imagine giving up “summer vacation” entirely. The whole concept of summer jobs relies on a long break when students are available to work in a variety of fields where three weeks might really not be all that productive (I’m thinking of pools and lakes that hire lifeguards, for example, or amusement parks hiring temporary workers). And, as I mentioned above, the college summer break can be restorative — though it didn’t really feel that way for me this year, when I only left town twice. Still, as we get started this fall — again, and again, and again — I can’t help but wonder whether there are workable alternatives to the wild schedule dance we do every year. No doubt my middle school son will be out of school before anything changes here, but it’s still worth thinking about.