Summertime and School Isn't Easy

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    Opponents contend that such gains can be pricey. While parents may be shocked at the rising costs of day camps and child care, the estimated tab to extend public education just one day is $1 billion to $1.5 billion. So far, mainly poor schools, which dip into federal Title I funds, and privately run charter schools manage to foot the bill.

    Then there are the less tangible costs. At a time when kids are booked solid with extracurriculars and homework, summer often seems to be childhood's last refuge. "Kids should work very hard during the year and then have a break for time with their parents and activities like camps and jobs," says former Education Secretary William Bennett. The American Camping Association has fired off nasty letters to school districts considering shortening summer break and has sent representatives to educate local school boards on the lifelong benefits of camp traditions such as archery and lanyard weaving. Teachers, while generally glad for the extra work, also relish the downtime of the summer months. "We're seeing exhaustion in the profession like never before," says Lucy Calkins, a professor at Columbia University's Teachers College. "It used to be that kids would leave school at 3 p.m. and teachers would chat in the faculty room. Now the kids never leave."

    Some educators have a more pressing concern--that extra days for everyone won't do much for the stragglers. "Some kids come to school with a 3,000-word vocabulary, and others come with 30,000 words, and when we place them in the same classroom from 8 to 2, the 3,000-word child can't begin to catch up," says Barbara Davis Brown, principal of the Village Academy, an extended-year school opening next month in Delray Beach, Fla., which will run 264 days a year. For those who need extra help, Brown will offer tutoring sessions afternoons and Saturday mornings. But even this may not do the trick. Cautions Missouri's Cooper: "Just adding days and hours to the calendar without making changes to the curriculum will not result in noticeable gains in achievement."

    The changed calendar did little for Fanny Finch Elementary, a year-round school in McKinney, Texas. It was so hot there in July that the school regularly canceled recess and families started leaving for other districts. After five restless summers in class--and negligible student improvement--the school is switching back to a traditional timetable. "My kids missed out on family vacations and swimming lessons, and on just being kids," says mother Darlene Clark. "I kind of missed the summer myself."

    Parents, after all, may have a harder time adjusting to a longer school year than their children. "Adults are used to thinking that summer is some idyllic time when everybody goes to Europe for three months," says Marilyn Stenvall, a former principal and advocate of year-round schooling. "Even though that doesn't happen, we find it difficult to change our own lives and schedules." Parents could take a few pointers from DeAndre Womack, a St. Louis sixth-grader. The shrinking summer suits him just fine. "My friends teased me about it in the beginning," he says. "But it's normal for me now." And perhaps soon enough for everyone.

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