Five years ago my school district started kicking around the idea of a balanced calendar. When I first heard the idea, I had horrible flashbacks to when I was a kid and my sister’s elementary school went to year round schooling. It was quite a pain for our family because I was in middle school at the time and my school was still on a traditional calendar. So while I was off, enjoying my summer, my sister was in school. For every 3-4 weeks of school my sister had, she had anywhere from 3-10 days off. It was odd and confusing. Despite being in the same school district, we had very little time off together, so not only was my mom constantly taking one of us to school, with the exception of Christmas break, family vacations were pretty much out of the question.
Since this was my only experience with any sort of “balanced calendar,” I was not at all in support. Especially since my kids were in a different school district, on a decidedly traditional school schedule and the thought of all those extra child care expenses gave me major anxiety.
Luckily, it was quickly explained to us that while there are a variety of balanced calendars, my district was interested in going to a 45/15 calendar. Basically, what this means is that students go to school for 45 days, have a 15 day break and then just continue the cycle. After a great deal of discussion within the schools and the community, we decided on a modified version of this schedule.
The result is that our students have four grading periods with 45 days each, then they have 10 full school days off before the next grading period of 45 days begins. Basically, we get a 2 week fall break, 2 week winter break and a 2 week spring break, followed by an 8 week summer break.
Although it sounded great on paper, the first year was decidedly rocky. That extra time in the fall and the spring sounded awesome until July 29th rolled around and while stores were just starting to get all of their school supplies out, we were showing up for our first day of classes. After over 15 years of teaching, I was used to going back to school in mid-August, so staring classes in July just felt so very wrong.
I kept telling myself it would all be worth it as soon as we made it fall break. It probably didn’t hurt that since I had two full weeks of vacation, I scheduled our family’s first trip to Disney World during my fall break. My daughter was in pre-school at the time, so it was no problem to take her out. Even though my son went to school in another district, he was in 1st grade and with some preparation with his teachers, I was able to take him out of school for the week as well.
And that fall break trip was glorious! Not only was it one of the cheapest times to go to Disney World, the weather while still warm, was far more reasonable than the June and July temps I was used to suffering through when I went on other family vacations. Plus, the parks were not nearly as crowded. My children were over the moon about the trip. It is still the best vacation we’ve ever taken as a family. And we couldn’t have done it without the balanced calendar.
We did have a few snags with students whose families had planned vacations using the original proposed calendar for 2013-2014 (which only featured a two day fall break, a week later than our actual fall break fell). For the first year, we excused all of those absences with the understanding that moving forward, any vacations scheduled outside of the breaks, which we call intercessions, would not be excused absences. We’ve had few problems since.
Not only was the fall break a great chance for my family to take a wonderful break together, as a teacher, it was immensely beneficial to me. My school is on a Block 4 schedule. For those of you not in the know, this means that our students have 4 classes every single day for 85 minutes. Each grading period is 9 weeks long. At the end of the 9 weeks, a new grading period begins. So, instead of completing English 9 in a full year like students on a traditional schedule do, our students complete the course work in one semester. Some of our courses, which only meet for a semester on a traditional year-long schedule, meet for only 9 weeks on Block 4.
On our old calendar, this meant that some years students would finish a grading period on a Friday and the following Monday would start an entirely new grading period. In some cases, that also meant starting an entirely new classes. For teachers, not only did we have to prepare for a new grading period (and in some cases brand new classes with brand new students), we also had to have all of our grading for the grading period that just ended done by Wednesday before school started. So basically, we got four days to get everything from the grading period graded and prepare entirely new lesson plans for entirely new courses.
And that was if things ended on a Friday. Several times, we would end a grading period on a Wednesday and start a new one (and again, brand new classes) the very next day. In those cases, our grades would be due before school started on Monday.
It was a NIGHTMARE!
Enter the balanced calendar. Now, our students get a full two weeks off after every grading period to relax and refocus. Teachers get two weeks to finish up all grades and prepare for the next grading period/set of classes. The breaks are short enough that there are fewer learning gaps, but just long enough to give everyone an actual break. The kids actually come back to class with focus.
Now that my kids are in my school district and on the same schedule as I am, I can see the benefits both as a teacher and a parent. And even though it is the first of August and we are already back in school, I don’t ever want to go back to a traditional schedule.
Now if we could just get off the Block 4…