July 23, 2008

Year-Round Schooling Study Needed, Manchin Says

Gov. Joe Manchin says county school boards and state lawmakers should begin investigating year-round schooling, a system he says could make for a stronger work force in the future.

Manchin visited the year-round Piedmont Elementary in Charleston last week to help kick off a program aimed at recruiting veterans to become schoolteachers.

Piedmont went to a year-round schedule in 1996 at the urging of Principal Steve Knighton, and two other Charleston elementary schools, Glenwood and Chandler, followed suit a year later. The West Side school, now under construction, will also adopt a year-round schedule.

"If our main goal is to provide children with skill sets for the 21st century work force, we've got to make sure they've got that opportunity," Manchin said. "If it gives them a better platform to learn and compete, it's something we should be serious about changing."

Year-round schools typically give students four three-week breaks. The time off is equivalent to a summer vacation, but advocates say the shorter, more frequent breaks help keep children interested in learning and improve their behavior.

They say the schedule also gives families more options for vacation and reduces absences.

The September-to-June schedule stems from the days when children were expected to tend crops and help out on family farms, but few families have such needs today. West Virginia has 21,200 farms.

For more schools to warm up to the notion of year-round schooling, Manchin said legislative interim committees need to study it.

State Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, has long supported year-round education and agrees the Senate Education Committee should discuss it.

"If you talk to teachers, they'll all tell you that the beginning of the school year is so much about restudying what was forgotten because of the long summer break," he said. "Year-round schools would be better for learning and retention."

But changing old habits is likely to be hard: It took six years of discussion to change the schedule at Piedmont.

- The associated press

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