School is out, so what now?

Estevan just wished a summer farewell to its students.

Kids were excited (or not that excited) to check their report cards and happy to be off from school for the whole two months. Their grandparents (at least those few that I know) were excited to have them visiting and were building plans to keep the youths occupied.

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The only people in Estevan who didn’t sound too excited on June 26 were parents, who for the next two months will have to balance between often full-time jobs and family without much support. Besides, after those two months, they’ll need to deal with the aftermath of a long break, trying to get their little ones back into schedule and education system.

So once again I came across the debate on the reasonability of summer breaks and general school load.

My grandpa used to say that if you have to do homework after school, then the school system isn’t working right or teachers are not very bright. Throughout all my school years I had homework. Most of my teachers were great, so I don’t think it was their fault that they couldn’t fit all the requirements into school days.

The system assumed a huge load of knowledge to be loaded into our young brains, a lot of which went in one ear and out the other at that stage of my life. (It was not until later that I realized how awesome the world around was and had to re-learn half of the school program).

Not only was there homework after school, but there was also a lot of reading homework for the summer. (The standard summer reading list for Grade 9 included over 20 books. And how many books do you read over the year now?)

This homework kept me somewhat occupied and off grandparents’ necks for at least some time as I was spending summers at their cabin. But it wasn’t enough to keep all the knowledge planted in my head by teachers throughout the previous school year. So when back to school it probably took teachers all September to get students to where we stopped before the break.

Some schools in the U.S. and in Canada every so often experiment with longer days and the school calendar. Nobody has had a real bash at summer break. Probably just yet.

I tend to believe the summer break, as it exists today, is somewhat of a rudiment that we built the system around and that someday we probably will lose as a tail.

Summer breaks were definitely needed 100, even 30-40 years ago when farmers needed their kids to help out to pick rocks, watch cattle and help with harvesting.

Besides, unlike the winter when school buildings could be heated, there was nothing to bring the temperature down in schools in summer, so the school infrastructure would just freeze for the two hottest months instead.

Nowadays, when parents don’t get two months off work and don’t have grandparents willing to every summer experience what it feels like starting all over and raising a child again, to keep kids occupied for over eight weeks might be a challenge.

On the other hand, the system built around the school calendar as it is today is established. There are summer camps and traditional camping. There are cabins that get used mainly during the summer break.

Plus, the longer break gives the flexibility of planning vacations. Just imagine what it would be like if most families would try to fit their two-week holidays into, say, one month.

Of course, teachers are used to having those awesome two summer months. However, I’m afraid if it comes to shortening or eliminating the summer break, it will be hard to justify the notion that teachers really need it, while nobody else has that luxury. If done substantially, it probably won’t meet much resistance.

From the educational point of view, I believe, there is always more to learn. And yes, I wasn’t fond of our never-ending homework and preferred to explore new things my own way and at my own pace. But summer camps were always about learning too, and I loved them. So probably the problem with homework was in its sameness with the regular school routine. I guess if summer school would just take a different format I wouldn’t mind it.

Sooner or later we will see some changes happening with the school calendar with hours being added to school days and years. And I’m pretty sure the summer break will be gradually becoming shorter.

But you know what, maybe you shouldn't listen to me because I might be just jealous of kids whose next two months will be filled with sunshine, adventures, friends and family fun.

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