Back to School: A Parents P.O.V.


A familiar squeak caught my ear as the hose turned on in the backyard, but I was elbow-deep in dinner preparations and the new puppy was nipping at my heels. I was powerless to investigate. I chose, instead, to yell. As far as my kids are concerned, all is well as long as I can hear them. Their trademark yodels lilted through the kitchen window, so I figured I had nothing to worry about. Surely, they were watering the garden or washing their playhouse. I finished making dinner, confident that my little angels were playing happily and safely in the backyard.

Then, I went outside.

All I could see was sand and water. “Check out our beach,” cried one particularly large sand pile. “We made it ourselves,” announced the smaller sand pile. My little angels had transformed into little sand monsters in record time. The “beach” was actually the sandbox, overflowing with water and sandy children who had been burying each other from head to toe. The mess was no match for the hose; it only removed the first layer of the sand that now encased my kids. As we headed for the bathtub, I found myself daydreaming about backpacks and homework. My longing for back-to-school was so palpable, I could almost taste the cafeteria chicken nuggets.

It was clear that I was no longer providing stimulating summer experiences for my kids. We had been hiking, camping, fishing, swimming, biking, reading, and painting for months, and we were ready for a change. My kids were bored, and their boredom was starting to destroy my house. We all needed school to start. The kids were excited to see their friends every day and I was excited to regain my sanity. At least rinsing the sandbox off the kids would give us something to do.
It was at this moment, as bucket loads of sand swirled down the bathtub drain, that I began really contemplating year-round school. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t want to relinquish my children to the public school system for the entire year. I flatter myself by thinking that I have some pretty important knowledge to share with them too, and I truly believe that the wide open world offers experiences school just can’t replicate. However, changing the school calendar so that multiple, shorter breaks replaced one, long summer break sounded incredibly appealing as I searched the laundry room for some Drano.

Bozeman School District officials discussed the possibility of changing the calendar to a year-round schedule just over a year ago. The discussion was tabled in the Spring of 2012, and has never really resumed. A handful of U.S. schools have adopted a year-round calendar. According to the National Education Association (NEA), the most popular year-round schedule has students in school for nine weeks and then on a break for three weeks. A slightly longer break during July is typical, and students are still in class for the standard 180 days per year. While there are schools that run on this schedule, a number of those that once adopted year-round school have returned to the traditional academic calendar.

As I contemplated how to entertain my kids for another two weeks so as to avoid further flooding disasters, I wondered why attempts to adopt year-round school weren’t always successful. It would be a drastic change that would have far-reaching effects. Day-care systems and schedules would have to adjust to the new schedule and sporting events and practices would be more difficult to schedule if students weren’t in class for the entire season. Teenagers would not have the opportunity to get summer jobs and gain work experience. Could the academic benefits of year-round school outweigh the scheduling challenges?

There is no definitive proof that year-round school affects student performance, either positively or negatively, but proponents argue that shorter breaks prevent the “summer brain drain” and reduce the time spent reviewing at the beginning of every school year. It would be nice if we could pinpoint one factor that affects every student’s academic performance, but it is unrealistic to think that simply changing the calendar will improve academic scores for everyone. Opponents of year-round school argue that a long summer break has many benefits, including adhering to an agrarian calendar and providing families a chance to reconnect.

A number of schools, especially in the southern United States, use year-round schedules to handle overcrowding, according to the NEA. Assigning students to staggered “tracks” allows districts to keep schools full throughout the year. According to the Seattle Times, Wake County, North Carolina has been addressing capacity issues with a year-round calendar with success. The Bozeman area certainly has capacity issues of its own, with two local school districts kicking off the 2013-2014 school year by opening new elementary schools. Meadowlark Elementary School will open in Bozeman and Saddle Peak Elementary will open in Belgrade. Belgrade’s newest elementary school was discovered to be over capacity in late August, before students ever set foot in the building.

Could a year-round calendar save our local school districts money? A calendar change would allow schools to accommodate more students. However, having students in the building throughout the year would result in higher operating costs. The successes and failures of a year-round calendar have not been extensively studied. As I rinse the Drano (successfully!) down the drain, I realize I am not sure which would be more advantageous—to stick with the traditional calendar or try something new.

I miss my kids when they head to school in the Fall. But, after they conquer those first day jitters, they love being there. And, let’s face it, there is no way I can provide as much excitement as a room full of friends and fantastic teachers. I try my hardest during June and July, but by August, I’m spent. That hot summer sun creates a drought in my creative reservoir. By the end of August, I can’t help thinking that year-round school
would provide just the rhythm I’m looking for. Having three weeks off during the winter to play in the snow and ice sounds blissfully cool and refreshing.

Sarah Cairoli loves nothing more than a fresh box of crayons. She can be reached at