Column: Mixed reviews on year-round school program

Some parents wish their children could attend a year-round school because they think three months of summer vacation is too long. Most Minnesotans believe school shouldn’t start until after the last day of the Minnesota State Fair.

Don Heinzman
Don Heinzman

Several schools in the Twin Cities area have year-round schedules, with students generally studying 45 days with 15-day breaks and one-month summer vacations. Each has a unique program.

One year-round elementary school is Harambee in Maplewood, where Kathy Griebel is the principal. The 435 students started school there Sept. 3 and will finish July 30, with breaks of two weeks or more in November, over the winter holiday and in February and May, and they’re off in August. Even during the breaks, students who are behind in their lessons can get special help.

As you would expect, principals of year-round schools say having a shorter summer vacation enables students to settle in easier and to spend less time reviewing.

Griebel said her students don’t suffer from having only one month of summer vacation. She believes that having school in June and July is particularly good for children from poor families, because they get to experience summer trips to libraries and museums they normally couldn’t afford. National research backs up her claim.

Teachers also welcome the 15-day breaks as times to reset and develop lessons and techniques.

As for student progress, Griebel said she and the staff agree that students are making good growth and learning the standards.

Crosswinds year-round school in Woodbury concentrates on science and the arts. It is governed by the Perpich Center for the Arts. The 173 students attend school in June and July and have August off.

The Cambridge-Isanti School District, specifically in Isanti, has a different version of a year-round school program. It offers the year-round and the traditional programs in the School For All Seasons for grades K-5. The Minnesota Center, for students in grades six through eight at the Isanti Middle School site, offers the same choices.

At the School For All Seasons, 225 students began their studies Aug. 1. Their schedule includes three trimesters each of 12 weeks. Between those sessions, students and teachers take a break of between two and three weeks.

The summer vacation lasts six weeks. This year, 450 students began their studies following the traditional calendar program at All Seasons.

Principal Mark Ziebarth said the number of teaching days is the same for both calendars. Ziebarth sees advantages in both programs.

Teachers in the year-round school spend less time reviewing material for students who come back July 31.

Students study more lessons outside and explore more with activities like collecting insects.

Parents seem to like the longer break in October when they take vacations.

As for playing summer sports, Ziebarth said students play sports in June and July.

Do students fare better in the year-round school? Over the years, Ziebarth hasn’t seen a significant difference in student achievement for those who study in the year-round and those in the traditional program. Nationwide, test data for year-round schools, compared to the traditional calendar, also shows mixed results.

Some parents said they like the year-round school in Isanti because students study in smaller classes and get to know one another well.

If the year-round school is so good, why don’t more schools use that model? Most parents are accustomed to the traditional calendar they followed when they went to school, and apparently that’s not about to change for their own children.

Editor’s note: Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers and a member of the ECM Editorial Board.