Yesterday — August 19 — as I began my drive to work, I was surprised to see the neighborhood kids gathered at the school bus stop. Unbeknownst to me, it was the first day of school.
It’s jarring to see school start in the middle of August. It’s not the way it was when I was a kid, when school always started the Tuesday after Labor Day and ended right around Memorial Day. That calendar left June, July, and August as idyllic, undisturbed summer months, when kids could play from dawn to dusk without worrying about homework or tests.
Why has the school calendar expanded to eat into the summer months? At New Albany Plain Local Schools, our local system, the calendar is dotted with random days off — for Staff Inservice Days (in September and February), Central Day (in October), Potential Waiver Days (in October and January), Conference Makeup Day (in November), and a No School Day (in April). Throw in a two-week Christmas break, a one-week spring break, and holidays like Labor Day, President’s Day, Dr. Martin Luther King Day, and Thanksgiving, and you’ve got the modern school calendar.
Why all the days off during the school year? My guess is that it is a combination of teacher, administrator, and school board interests in building in breaks and allowing people to get away. Some of the days are strategically positioned to create three, four, and even five-day weekends.
That might be great for teachers and parents — but what about kids? We fret about overweight kids spending too much time sitting on their butts, watching TV or playing video games, rather than engaging in unstructured, creative play. Summer is the best time for the latter, but the modern school calendar cuts two weeks out of that prime period. When is a kid more likely to get some healthy outdoor exercise — in August, or during an “Inservice Day” on a wet and cold Friday in February? And don’t even think about what it does to kids to send them to sit in classrooms during the broiling dog days of August.
Our schools should focus more on what is best for kids. I think that means cutting out the random off days, compressing the school calendar, and letting August be the magical, outdoor summer month it is meant to be.