Sunday, June 17, 2012 | Categories: Young Journalists Blog
Gordie Wornoff on why the school calendar shouldn't go year-round
The BC government wants to give individual school boards the choice of shortening the traditional, long summer break by moving to a "balanced calendar" schedule. Proponents of the plan say that too much information is lost over the summer and the September reboot could be more effective.
With over 1,600 public schools in BC poised to decide whether to jettison the traditional September-June year, these proposed changes would echo across the country.
Valerie Patterson taught elementary school for 35 years on Cape Breton Island. She says children need a break from school in the summer to develop healthy habits and enjoy freedom.
"When they're not in school, they're taking lessons for this, lessons for that, how to be at the top of the pile," she says. "Play is a child's work," says Patterson.
"These days we need good creative minds, people who can think outside of the box ...because they were allowed to play as a child," she says.
Kim Bezaire of Montreal says she grew up on a farm and was needed in the summer to do the chores.
"We needed to be present to plant the garden, to weed it and to harvest those vegetables," she says. "This was a family who needed the kids to be available to do what was necessary."
Although her summers often consisted of work, Bezaire says the freedom to roam outside in the sunny weather was a great benefit to her as a child.
Part of the proposed calendar changes allow for more time off in the fall and spring - a week or two holiday sprinkled throughout the school year and a month off in the summer.
Bezaire says this move would stifle struggling, vulnerable families by cooping them up in small apartments in the winter when weather is inclement.
"It's just giving more options to people who are doing okay," she says. "Not everyone can afford to go south for Christmas."
Nik Swain, president of a youth soccer association in Vancouver says the move wouldn't really affect his group - his league plays on school nights during the spring and fall.
But, he says, the move would create "a lack of opportunity to go back and visit my family in England...we don't go back that often, so when we do go, we want it to be more than a couple of weeks, not just one or two."
Keenan MacNeal, a third year psychology student in Calgary sees the move as keeping up with education trends across the globe. European and Asian countries practise a year-round school year and those students are in the classroom for an extra one or two years overall.
"Canada has one of the best education systems in the world...but I think it's one of those things where we can improve, we have to be constantly refining the education system," he says.
MacNeal says summer vacations segment the school experience too much and create a situation where students simply "get through" the year. He advocates "lifelong learning" and suggests that successful people are always learning new things and it can be an enjoyable and rewarding mindset.
Others argue that scrapping the annual summer holiday would be a negative move, hammering students who struggle already. Melanie Peters, of Peterborough, Ontario is a support worker in schools who also works in children's day camps in the summer months. She says that children who come through Children's Aid Society programs often flourish in summer camps.
Summer camps "lead to a lot of breakthroughs because they don't feel like they're under a microscope...they're not judged the same way...they can be more hands-on learners," Peters says.
"Especially kids who go away to Easter Seals camp, it's an opportunity for them to go away and be a kid themselves and not have a wheelchair or disability be in their way."
Her main concern with a change in the school calendar is a stifling hot classroom for the summer months. Even in June weather, the students "shut down because it's too hot," she says. "There's no air conditioning in most schools and there's no money to put air conditioning in."
Chris Harris, the President of the Vancouver Elementary Schools Association agrees on that point. He taught summer school and says that learning is compromised in brutally hot classrooms.
Harris says he's read the academic research on balanced calendar years and his organization hasn't taken a stance on the issue. "There's no strong evidence one way or the other," he says.
It's the practical, day-to-day implications which he considers the main drawbacks. "Not only schools are based on this calendar - summer break - but the rest of society is based on this calendar," Harris says. "Summer camp, adequate daycare for kids, all of our community centres...university students who come out of university in the summer and are the day camp leaders," are all based on the summer calendar.
"If you change the school year calendar and you do it in a big way, then lots of other things around that have to change," says Harris.
He also says that major negotiations would have to take place between the teacher's unions and the government if these changes happened. "The discussion has been hard given the labour climate in British Columbia in education right now," he says.
Liam Dobbs, a grade 6 student in North Saanich, BC finds the discussion "very, very annoying," and suggests the government conduct an online poll of what students would want.
Gordie Wornoff, 31, (BJ,'05, Carleton) is thrilled to be a production assistant on CBC's Cross Country Checkup. He is a writer and woodworker living in Toronto. He specializes in reclaimed materials and artistic furniture designs. His carpentry work can be seen on Discovery Channel's "Junk Raiders," now in its third season.