By JANELLE JAMES
Capital News Service
LANSING – Few Michigan schools follow a balanced – or year-round – calendar, even though students, teachers and families say they benefit from it.
According to the Washington Post, only 4% of students nationwide go to schools where they have a shorter six- to eight- week summer break and more frequent, longer breaks throughout the school year. Students following a balanced calendar start school in mid-August and end in mid-June.
Few Michigan schools have adopted the balanced calendar because of the community pushback. One of the main issues associated with having a balanced calendar is the messaging.
The term year-round education is falling out of favor because students don’t attend school all year, said David Hornak, the executive director of the National Association for Year-Round Education.
“The term is no longer being used as much, in favor of a balanced calendar,” said Hornak, who is also the superintendent of Holt Schools.
Some parents argue against it because it may conflict with planned summer vacations. They believe kids deserve the same summer vacations that they had as children, Hornak said.
Other parents, especially those with high school students, oppose the balanced calendar because their child may not be able to work as long in the summer to save for that car they always wanted or even college.
“I understand the economic reality of students working, but I think their No. 1 priority is school,” said Paula Herbart, the president of the Michigan Education Association., the state’s largest union of teachers and other school personnel.
Districts with a traditional calendar start after Labor Day, end in June around Memorial Day and have a 12-week summer break. They have shorter breaks throughout the school year.
Advocates for the balanced calendar say that students who have shorter summer breaks don’t spend as much time reviewing material from the previous year.
That can help students who struggle, Herbart said. Students remember more information upon returning to school from a three-week break than from a nine- or 10-week break.
“For those students who are slower learners or slower processors, year-round school is really beneficial because there isn’t the opportunity to have as much learning loss,” she said.
State law requires schools to have 180 instruction days.
Balanced schools also adhere to this requirement. They submit a waiver to start school before Labor Day, since most schools typically start later. Balanced schools must also administer state-required assessment tests on the same days as other schools.
There are only a few known schools in Michigan that follow a balanced calendar, Hornak said.
It’s difficult to track balanced schools in Michigan because some schools apply for their waiver to start before Labor Day, simply to end the school year earlier in June, not because they follow a balanced calendar.
Advocates for the balanced calendar say that a balanced calendar allows students and educators to have a more set schedule.
“Our educators need more balance in their lives, and I think that year-round school could provide that, but again the start and end date is always a bargain,” Herbart said.
Hornak agreed. “Families will say that the balanced calendar is more aligned with current lifestyle,” he said.
”I don’t know another career that allows for 12 or 13 weeks off consecutively. Mom and dad can’t take the summer off, so parents generally like the balanced calendar because they can better budget for a week or two off for child care rather than taking vacation for the entire summer.”
Horizon Elementary School in Holt transitioned to a balanced calendar in 1994. Sycamore Elementary School, also in Holt, implemented a balanced calendar nearly a decade ago.
Students do better because they don’t lose as much information, Hornak said, and student behavior improves.
“The students appreciate the opportunity to take a breath every six weeks or so, and that’s more humane,” Hornak said
“The kids really appreciate that,” he said. “They work really really hard, they go home and rest up. When the teacher is rested and well planned, they can come back and engage the kids at a deeper level.”
Holt students typically have a break every six weeks: in October, November, February, March and a two-week break in December for Christmas and New Year’s Day.
“When school districts shut down for 12 or 13 weeks in the summer, it is often difficult to meet the needs of our students,” Hornak said.
“A balanced calendar affords us an opportunity to access our kids to provide them many of the things they deeply desire — for instance, access to instruction and materials, food, in some cases clothing and before and after school care,” he said.
Kellie Flaminio has two children, one in 5th grade and the other is in 9th grade. Both attended Horizon Elementary but now they attend schools with a traditional calendar.
Her oldest child is a special education student, she said. “Not having the 12-week (break) helped him to continue to grow academically. He does miss the shorter summers because it’s time away from friends and it’s time away from structure, and he does like routine.”
Akron-Fairgrove School in Tuscola County and Beecher Community School District just north of Flint also follow a balanced calendar.
Akron-Fairgrove Schools follow a slightly different calendar: It has a week-long break every six weeks but in June students attend Monday-Wednesday, a half-day on Thursdays and have Fridays off.
“There are so many positive things about the balanced calendar,” said Diane Foster, the superintendent for Akron-Fairgrove Schools. “Our families love it, our students love it.”