By Aundreana Jones-Poole
Holt Journal Staff Reporter
The Holt School District is giving parents a choice between sending their children to traditional or balanced calendar schools.
A balanced calendar still gives students the same 180-day school semester as a traditional calendar, but doesn’t allow students a three-month summer vacation. Instead, it is reduced to eight weeks or less. Breaks of typically two weeks are given to students in the fall, around the holidays in winter, and in the spring.
The Holt School District has two balanced calendar elementary schools, Horizon and Sycamore, both kindergarten through fourth grade, but isn’t currently making any initiatives to convert the other nine traditional calendar schools into balanced calendars, according District Superintendent David Hornak.
“Although I speak on a national level regarding this subject, at this point in our community we value choice,” said Hornak. “In our case, families have the choice to attend balanced calendar schools or traditional calendar schools.”
Cathy Gullett’s third-grade daughter Olivia has been a student at Horizon Elementary since kindergarten and she loves the balanced calendar concept.
“I moved out in the area of the Holt School District before I even got pregnant with the thought that I wanted to go with a balanced calendar school,” said Gullett.
Gullett believes that there are significant academic benefits to students attending balanced calendar schools.
“Now that she’s in school and she’s progressing from grade to grade, she retains more,” said Gullett. “Very little review seems to be needed after the summer vacation because there is only five to six weeks before it begins again.”
Mary Rutledge has had two children attend Horizon from kindergarten through fourth grade as well and she agrees with the advantage of a shorter summer break.
“I think that they benefitted by not having a full 3 months to lose some of their training for lack of a better word,” said Rutledge. “Especially when they were younger, by going back in a shorter span of time I don’t think they forgot some of the routines associated with school.”
According to Hornak, research has proven that traditional summer breaks are less effective in learning and cause teachers to have to repeat a lot of material the following school year.
“Teachers are required to reteach four to six weeks on the traditional calendar,” said Hornak.
According to the National Association for Year-Round Education, a study done by Dr. Harris Cooper found that all students lose in math and spelling skills, and some lose reading skills, over a traditional summer break.
Gullet said that her daughter has even expressed to her that she would rather be doing things in school and learning than just playing with friends after being out for so long.
Balanced calendar schools also offer “intercessions” that allow students to receive additional education and participate in fun activities during many of their breaks.
“The additional programming that you get with intercession has been an unexpected benefit,” said Gullett. “One year they were assigned different presidents to research. These are things that you don’t have time for with everything so tucked in common core.”
Rutledge said that because there are four years between her two children, they only attended Horizon together for one year before her son went off to Washington Woods, which has a traditional calendar.
“Was it inconvenient? Sort of, but we had always used the child care at the school,” said Rutledge. “For me one of the plusses was that as a part-time stay at home mom at that time, I had different times alone with the kids and I treasured that.”
Gullett says that she understands that it can be trying for parents who have children in both traditional and balanced calendar schools and hopes that the entire district transitions to balanced calendar.
“I hope that at the very least Washington Woods converts to a balanced calendar because that is the middle school closest to our area,” said Gullett.
However, Gullet believes that most parents won’t want to convert because of their concerns with sports.
“They think that their kids can’t be involved in sports and be competitive,” said Gullett.
Rutledge also believes this to be the cause for concern.
“Right now, as they should, the MHSAA has very strict rules on practices,” said Rutledge. “Starting school in August takes away that month of practices.”
There is often a concern that balanced calendars will be problematic at the secondary level, according to the NAYRE website. However, re-organizing the school year has not been a problem for high school or middle school sports, band, or extra-curricular activities.
According to Hornak, balanced calendar students, faculty, and families generally all embrace the concept.
“We had a waiting list at many of our grade levels in each of our buildings,” said Hornak. “Certain grade levels are at capacity and as a result families have said that if a child leaves, the would like their child to come.”
According to Deborah Roeske, Vice President of the Board of Education, there has always been a waiting list to get into the balanced calendar schools.
“Horizon Elementary has been a balanced calendar school since it opened about 21 years ago, said Roeske. “That was part of the reason we added Sycamore,” said Roeske.
According to Roeske, the decision to transition the entire district to balanced isn’t up to the board.
“If we were to change, the board would have to hear from the community to say that’s what they really want,” said Roeske.