Education

Summer in class

A growing number of schools are now open year-round

JENNIFER HUNTER August 10 1998
Education

Summer in class

A growing number of schools are now open year-round

JENNIFER HUNTER August 10 1998

Summer in class

Education

A growing number of schools are now open year-round

On a humid day in late July, Wanda Richards’ Grade 3 class is busy working on short stories about aliens. Geoffrey Fox, one of her more precocious pupils, has determined that his piece, neatly printed and single-spaced, will be a sequel to H.G. Well’s The War of the Worlds about the Martian invasion of Earth. Fox is calling his story The Second War of the Worlds: The War for Independence. “Have you read War of the Worlds ?” he asks a visitor. “I have. It’s over 300 pages.” The nine-year-old’s devotion also extends to his school, Kanaka Creek Elementary in Maple Ridge, B.C.— despite the fact that he is sitting in class while many of his friends are on vacation. “I don’t mind being here at all,” says Fox. “I like school.” With a handful of exceptions, most of the other 26 children in Ms. Richards’ class concur. ‘We get to have December and April off,” says Maija-Liisa Corbett. “And because we’re in school more, I think we learn more.” Kanaka Creek, which began its year-round program last September, is one of a growing number of Canadian schools adopting the system. In Calgary, there are two year-round schools, as well as 15 on a modified calendar— which means starting in mid-August and having extended breaks at Thanksgiving and Easter. There are year-round schools dotted throughout Ontario cottage country—in Barrie, Gravenhurst, Bracebridge and Huntsville —and the London area school board operates one. Meanwhile, the Halifax School Board is

beginning to show some interest. Kanaka Creek students go to school for three months, and then have one month off. “It’s like continuous learning,” says Betty Williams, who teaches Grade 1. “During their month off, the kids don’t forget what you taught them before. And it’s a break for teachers, too. We’re less burnt out and we can carry our enthusiasm into the classroom.”

In fact, demand is so great that Kanaka’s student body of more than 300 will swell by 160 in September, with eight portables to accommodate the growth.

This spring, principal Don Thain received 120 applications for five teaching positions. “I knew this would work,” says Thain, who first learned about year-round schools in the early 1990s when he was doing academic research in California. “But it has worked better than I ever imagined.” Parents are supportive, too, even though some have had to re-work child care arrangements. ‘We’ve seen the benefits for our children,” says Karen Benson, whose 13-year-old daughter, Melody, is graduating from Grade 7 and whose 10-year-old, Hannah, is completing Grade 4. Hannah’s increased ability to retain lessons has boosted her confidence. “She struggled in Grade 3,” says Benson. “But she has become a much more enthusiastic student now.”

According to the U.S.-based National As-

sociation for Year Round Education, yearround schooling has grown by 500 per cent over the past decade. In 1985 there were 411 year-round schools in the United States. By 1998 there were 2,681 public schools and 71 private schools functioning through the calendar year. In Canada, there are 31 schools, both in the public and private systems, following suit. Some—including Calgary’s two year-round schools —are multitrack, meaning that vacations are staggered and the school operates almost 12 months a year. Within the next four years, Kanaka Creek intends to add three more tracks, including French immersion, and is planning a $2-million building extension for next year.

There are no hard statistics on the merits of year-round schooling, but Don Royan of the Calgary Board of Education says a 1997 study showed that both teacher and student attendance had improved. As well, 87 per cent of Calgary’s year-round teachers said they felt students had better retention of their lessons. Carolyn Shields, an associate professor in the faculty of education at the University of British Columbia, is writing a book about year-round schooling. As part of her research, she looked at the performance scores of schools in Utah, where year-round education is widely instituted. Over six years, Shields says, 20 per cent of the scores for traditional schools were below the predicted range, while only four per cent of multi-track schools fell below. In 1978, the New York Board of Regents, which oversees public schools in New York City, studied how lengthy summer breaks affected students’ ability to retain information. The board found no effects on children from advantaged homes, but adverse effects on disadvantaged children. ‘The suggestion was that a shorter break reduced learning loss,” Shields says.

Not everyone agrees, however, that yearround schooling reduces learning loss.

The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation is opposed to yearround education, saying studies have not shown any advantage. BCTF researcher Charlie Naylor has concluded from his own examination of the studies that “improved educational achievement caused by the implementation of year-round calendars is not proven and should be treated with some skepticism.”

Still, Kanaka Creek’s Thain remains enthusiastic about his school’s new calendar. On July 2, he handed out red roses to teachers, staff and volunteers at Kanaka Creek, the first year-round track school in British Columbia, the first one to be open all of July. “This is for making education history,” he told them. And for becoming part of a growing Canadian trend.

JENNIFER HUNTER in Maple Ridge