By Madeline Sewell
Clinton County Chatter Staff Reporter
ST. JOHNS – Recently many school districts have been talking about whether to move toward a balanced calendar, or year-round schooling. And St. Johns Public Schools is one of them.
According Scott Marier, Board President of the St. Johns Public Schools Board of Education, St. Johns hasn’t made any decisions yet, but they’re looking for opportunities to better their students.
A balanced calendar may provide this opportunity.
“It provides different opportunities for the students and from a marketing standpoint we might be able to better sell our district to parents,” said Marier.
William Tennate, St. Johns Public Schools Board Vice President said, “bottom line, it’s better for students! Research has shown that during the summer months, there is a huge drop-off in retention of material learned.”
It’s a trend that’s been taking hold nationwide.
“Times have changed and many people propose doing away with this ‘outdated’ system and moving to ‘year-round education,’” said the National Education Association.
“In this updated system, schools continue to operate 180 days per year, but they stretch out the 180 days over the entire year and take shorter breaks between each term,” said the NEA.
That can help keep lessons in student heads. “Teachers do a lot of remedial work in the fall to have students catch back up to where they were before summer break,” said Tennate.
“As a teacher myself, it usually took me 4-6 weeks before my students were performing at the same level as back in June – a lot of wasted time,” Tennate said.
For Rick Labar, a teacher at St. Johns High School, “I’ve never taught a balanced calendar, I’ve only ever taught the traditional calendar. So, I’m not either for it or against it, because I don’t have enough information and I’ve never tried it”
This doesn’t mean that Labar doesn’t have his concerns about the potential shift.
“I have eight other students that come from surrounding schools that take my class. In order for that to continue to work, every school in the county would have to move to a balanced calendar,” said Labar.
Labar explained that there are a lot of myths surrounding the balanced calendar and how beneficial it really is for students.
“I think the big thing is that a lot of schools that do well with a balanced calendar, offer remedial classes for students over those breaks,” said Labar.
“So it makes their test scores go up. Whether or not this is from the balanced calendar or not has yet to really be seen,” Labar said.
Richard Lund, another teacher at St. Johns high school, said, “[based on how the balanced calendar is broken up] you have these two-week breaks at different spots then, if there is remediation in place, you get a hold of students that are struggling, in let’s say math, and for two weeks you’re kind of targeting their weak spots and filling in holes.”
“There is some logic behind this as well as far as getting students the help that they need, rather than waiting until the entire school years done and try and give them some summer school help,” Lund said.
Unfortunately, as beneficial as this may sound, St. Johns may not be able to pull it off if they moved to a balanced calendar.
“It’s important to try new things, but I’m more of, ‘we should try it if there is evidence that it’s going to work,'” said Lund.
“I’ve done a lot of research on the balanced calendar and a lot of what I found was opinion-based … and a lot of the research was inconclusive [on if a balanced calendar benefited students],” said Lund.
“Students have also shared with me that for some of them they need the summer to make ends meet,” said Lund.
“They’re saving for college, or trying to buy a car, and it’s a lot less likely that they will be able to have those opportunities if they didn’t have a summer break,” Lund said.
“The community would have a lot that they would have to adjust to,” said Lund.
Parents are also wary about the idea of a balanced calendar.
Amy Labar, St. Johns parent and sister-in-law to Rick Labar said, “I like the idea, mostly because I feel like my daughter in particular loses a lot over the summer.”
“But then I don’t like [the idea of a balanced calendar] because it would make other things, such as sports and vacation, difficult,” said Amy Labar.
“My daughter is taking credits at [Lansing Community College] and as of right now St. Johns would have to cancel those credit opportunities because the LCC and St. Johns wouldn’t be on the same schedule,” said Amy Labar.
“I think they’ll figure it out, but I can’t see [the switch] going very smoothly,” said Amy Labar.
“I think as a whole it would be a good thing for the student body as far as academics go,” said Amy Labar.
Michelle Thompson, an employee at the local ice cream shop, Shaggies, is worried that the switch in school schedule could hurt business.
“Shaggies is a seasonal business,” said Thompson. “Part of that is the nature of the ice cream and part of that is because we’re located in the downtown and we don’t have a drive-through.”
“I think [a balanced calendar] would actually hurt us, because in the summer, especially when the kids have nothing to do, we’re the hangout,” said Thompson.
“The students come and they hang out all day long and play video games,” said Thompson.
“Without that summer break, we might lose 25 percent of our business,” Thompson said.
According to Tennate, “there are several different schedules one could put forth … right now students have between 10-12 weeks off in the summer. I would imagine that if we ran a Balanced Calendar, students would have between 4-6 weeks off in the summer.”
Rick Labar said, “what you have [with a balanced calendar] is longer breaks spread out though out the year and a shorter summer break.”
“So instead of having week at spring break, you might have two, then two and a half weeks at Christmas, and a fall break, then you shorten summer down,” said Rick Labar.
“[St. Johns is] on a trimester schedule, so there would probably be a couple of weeks off between each of the other trimesters. We would probably not pick a schedule that is way, way out there – something that would be closer to what we have now that would truly make a difference,” said Tennate.
“What’s so great about the idea of a balanced calendar is that we would have control over the schedule,” said Marier.
Scheduling conflicts, such as the Mint Festival, would be an easy fix that St. Johns could easily make adjustments around, said Marier.
“I am in favor of it, from everything that I’ve read and from my personal experience teaching, it would be educationally a sound move for retention, learning and student growth,” said Tennate.
Again, no date has been set for a decision, parents and members of the community are still being surveyed for feedback before moving forward on this initiative, said Tennate.
“It will take some time,” said Tennate.