- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 1, 2000

Instead of heading for swimming pools and playgrounds yesterday, several hundred Reston, Va., children headed for their first day of classes.

The 550 students at the Dogwood Elementary School began the 2000-2001 academic year a month early because educators are experimenting with a year-round calendar that leaves just five weeks for summer vacation.

"It's fun. I got a lot of friends to play with," said Brian Mayfield, 7, who scampered around his air-conditioned classroom as the temperature outside hovered around 80 degrees.

The school took it easy on him and the others the first day. Classes were dismissed at 12:05 p.m.

The purpose of the revised calendar is to cut down on catch-up time at the beginning of the school year, enable the faster students to continue their learning, and help children who have learned English as a second language retain what they acquired before summer break.

"We still have 180 days," said Principal Ricki Harvey.

"What we've done is eliminate that long period of time over summer… . Parents can still go to the beach in the summer over that five weeks."

The new schedule gives students two weeks off in October, three weeks off in December and January and three more in March and April.

The schedule parallels the calendar of Fairfax County schools to include the same holidays for Columbus Day, winter break, spring break and so on.

During each three-week break, Dogwood Elementary students have the option to attend 10-day intersessions, where they can work on the school newspaper, become a make-believe city designer or attend a stock market class. Parents pay a $25 registration fee.

The county chose Dogwood Elementary for the experiment in order to boost the test scores of its students, many from immigrant and low-income families in the surrounding area.

Timber Lane Elementary School in Falls Church is the only other school in Fairfax County and the first ever in the Washington area to implement the year-round calendar.

As for cutting summer short, "they were ready," said Dogwood Elementary teacher Jennifer Cottingham, 32.

"They were excited to be back, excited to see their friends, missing their teachers," she said.

Tori Anderson, 10, said she doesn't mind it when her friends from other schools tease her about her short summer.

"I pick on them, telling them about how we get vacation during the school year rather than have to wait," she said.

"I like it," said Kiara Lewis, 9. "I get vacation time around the year."

But not all are sold on the idea.

"I don't like being here," said Ashley Clement, 9.

"I don't like to go to class. I don't like homework too. I wish I could go to King's Dominion."

Parents said the early start gives idle children something to do.

"I was saying, 'Yes, this is a great idea,' " said Jane Adams, 40, whose son, Kris, is in fourth grade and daughter, Ashley, is in second grade.

"In my opinion, August is a waste. The children always ask, 'What are we going to do today, Mommy?' "

A few miles away, at the playground behind Navy Elementary School in Oak Hill, grandmother Judy Wuerdemann, 59, applauded the concept of learning in July.

"Personally, I think it's a terrific idea," said Mrs. Wuerdemann, who once lived in Germany, where students attend school all year.

"I think it's a difficult thing to break into when no one is accustomed."

Danielle Scarcella, 9, a student at Waples Mill Elementary School, made a funny face when told about the early start time at Dogwood.

"I guess it would be OK, but I wouldn't like it," she said. "You'd be doing work all the time. It would be kind of annoying."

Jeanne Ross, 38, whose two toddlers may one day attend Navy Elementary said, "I guess there's something fun about having the whole summer off when you're a kid."

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