- The Washington Times - Monday, July 29, 2002

Alexandra Labat attends school year-round.
As a fifth-grader at Franconia Elementary School south of Alexandria, she follows a modified school calendar, which gives her about five weeks of vacation during the summer instead of the traditional 2 months or more. The other days off are dispersed throughout the year as holidays and optional intersessions.
"It's fun having a long time off during winter break and spring break," the 10-year-old says. "I [also] liked having more time off during the summer. I had more time to relax during other summers and go swimming."
Year-round education, or application of a modified calendar, is a type of education reform used by about 3,000 schools nationwide. Many educators feel it provides the most effective framework for learning because it allows for additional days in school and a shorter summer break. However, critics say the amount of time spent in school is not as important as the way the time is used.
Joanice Tarcza, a fifth-grade teacher at Franconia Elementary, says one of the best parts of having a modified calendar is that it provides a break about every 10 weeks instead of only during the summer. This is the second year that Franconia Elementary will hold classes year-round.
Students there and at six other Fairfax County schools that use a modified calendar are starting classes today for the 2002-2003 school year. Those schools are Timber Lane Elementary, Graham Road Elementary and Glen Forest Elementary in Falls Church; Dogwood Elementary in Reston; Parklawn Elementary west of Alexandria; and Annandale Terrace Elementary in Annandale.
Mrs. Tarcza says the students on a modified calendar need less review at the beginning of the school year because they have had less time to forget what they learned the previous year. She says this is especially important for those students who don't speak English at home on a regular basis.
"It extends their learning quite nicely," she says. "I think it is wonderful."
Anita Blain, principal of Timber Lane, says this is the fifth year the school has used a modified calendar. Although about six families left Timber Lane when the program was first implemented, Mrs. Blain says most of the parents of the 602 students are pleased with the altered schedule.
"We're not creating a hardship for the community," says Mrs. Blain, who adds that since the program began she has seen scores improve on statewide tests such as the Standards of Learning, which track the academic achievement of students attending Virginia's public schools.
Jane Beddoe of Falls Church says she viewed the optional intersessions as a bonus for her daughter, Annie, who went through the year-round system for four years at Timber Lane. This fall, Annie will attend seventh grade at Longfellow Middle School in Falls Church, which uses a traditional calendar.
"It spiced things up for her," Ms. Beddoe says, "but I have to be honest with you. Annie is really looking forward to having the month of August off. She is going to visit her grandmother. We enjoyed it while we were part of the experience, but now we're moving on."

If parents in Fairfax County don't want to send their children to a modified-calendar school, they have the option of enrolling the youngsters in the traditional-calendar school in the area with which it is matched. For instance, Timber Lane is paired with Pine Springs Elementary in Falls Church.
According to Fairfax County's modified calendar, students have about 10 weeks before a two-week optional intersession takes place in October. The second one-week optional intersession occurs in the beginning of January, while the third two-week optional intersession comes at the beginning of April. About 3 weeks of holiday time is built into the calendar along with the five weeks during the summer when the school is closed. This allows for about 25 extra days of optional learning, which is in addition to the required 180 days. However, this costs about $265,000 extra per year.
During the optional intersessions, students pay a $25 registration fee to sign up for classes each season. If a student participates in the free or reduced-price lunch program, that student pays just $5 to register. The fee does not exceed $50 per family if there are more than two children in a family who want to attend the program. Those who can't afford the cost can receive scholarships.
Students can enroll for up to two classes, such as origami, crocheting, drama, cooking, dance, art and physical education for enrichment purposes. For the same price, parents can send their children for a half day, so that they take only one class in the morning, as long as the parents are willing to pick up the children after the first period is finished. The school bus takes children home at the end of a typical day.
Aside from offering enrichment classes, the intersessions also are designed to provide more instruction for children who may be struggling with a core topic, such as math or English. This is contrary to traditional calendars, which provide summer schools for remediation after students may have failed certain subjects.

Richard Alcorn, senior consultant with the National Association for Year-Round Education in San Diego, says end-of-year burnout is avoided with use of a modified calendar. He says more than 2 million students in the United States are following such a schedule.
Although many schools use the system to redistribute vacation time, others use a multitrack calendar to accommodate overcrowded schools. This method rotates the students throughout the year so that a large portion are in the classroom while a smaller portion simultaneously are on vacation.
Mr. Alcorn says either system benefits the students. He argues that the educationally advantaged and disadvantaged learn the same during the school year, but not during the summer, when activities vary. He says the disadvantaged students drop back two or three months in the summer and forget what they learned, which is a problem that is magnified over time. When the disadvantaged students reach high school, they could be three years behind the advantaged students.
"There are people who are concerned about protecting the lazy bees who are swinging on a rope at the swimming hole," Mr. Alcorn says. "It's a pressure cooker these days. We want to see people succeed academically."
Billee Bussard of Jacksonville, Fla., who runs the Web site www.summermatters.com, is one of the many opponents of year-round education. She says learning happens in more places than the classroom. Children benefit from many summer activities, such as swim team, Bible school, summer camps, trips overseas, volunteer activities, extended vacations with family members and free time to explore new interests, she argues. These experiences are interrupted by a year-round calendar, she says, and the modified schedule also makes it more difficult to find a summer internship or job, which is essential to students applying for college.
She says the modified calendar also disrupts family life, making it harder to find time to spend together when everyone is free. Further, she says, many parents who support the system might like it because it provides a constant baby sitter, especially with schools that provide day care before and after standard school hours.
"It's a waste of taxpayer time and money," Mrs. Bussard says. "I don't think the hot summertime is an environment conducive to learning."
Cora Harper, principal at Graham Road Elementary, says her goal is to provide the best opportunities for her students, whether through a year-round or a traditional calendar. Last year, the first year the school used the modified calendar, about 95 percent of the students attended the optional intersessions.
"This is one way to improve children's learning," Mrs. Harper says. "A modified calendar is not the answer. It is one of many that will make an impact on student achievement."


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