August 2, 2008

Summer’s Over Already? School Starts Again Very Soon

By Abby Souza, Merced Sun-Star, Calif.

Aug. 2--Ryan Vincent might be excited about his senior year at Golden Valley High School, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't mind putting it off for a few more weeks. "It would be great if school started a little later," sighed the 17-year-old.

Golden Valley High School, along with the rest of the campuses in the Merced Union High School District, begins classes on Aug. 13. Students were released from the 2007-2008 school year on June 4 -- a mere 70 days from the beginning of the upcoming school year. "My friends and I are always complaining that summer is too short," Vincent grumbled.

Most districts in Merced County start the 2008-2009 school year sometime in the next few weeks.

Both the Merced City and Livingston Union school districts have their first day of school scheduled Aug. 18. Atwater Elementary School District starts Aug. 14 and Planada Elementary School District begins even sooner, Aug. 11.

"Traditionally, school years were set up around our agrarian calendar," said Planada Superintendent Steve Gomes. Students needed the summer months off to help with their families' farms, he explained, and were let off from school to do that -- "Once harvest was done at the end of August, school started."

Gomes also said it was simply too hot in most parts of the state to hold classes during the summer. Now, with air conditioning and the movement away from family-operated farms, it just makes more sense to start school in mid-August.

For example, Gomes said, it allows school districts to end their first semester before winter break.

In the past, when school years began after the Labor Day weekend, that often meant two weeks of first semester courses had to be held after winter break. "That makes it tough for (high school students) taking finals," Gomes said.

With the current school year schedule, high school teachers give finals right before winter break, and a new semester starts when the students come back in January.

This schedule does add about two more weeks to the second semester, Gomes said, but those are used to give students the standardized tests required by the state and federal governments.

"That makes the (number of instructional) days about the same," he said.

And while the reasons high school districts start earlier don't really make a difference to the Planada Elementary district, Gomes said he still tries to follow the lead of neighboring Le Grand Union High School District.

"We want to be on the same schedule for the families" who have children in both high school and elementary school, he said. That way families can make plans for vacations and child care that work for all members of their households. This year, he said, the two districts' schedules are virtually identical.

"Teachers have kids, too," said Sarah Morgan, a library media teacher at Merced's Cruickshank Middle School. "They want to be able to have the same schedule."

Morgan, who's held various teaching positions in the area, said she enjoys a shorter summer. "There's not so much downtime," she said. "The kids don't forget as much."

A former year-round school teacher, Morgan said both students and teachers seem to benefit from longer breaks during the school year. By starting in August, area districts are able to have longer winter breaks and an additional week off in February.

Another perk to the area school district's August start date is that it differs from schedules in other parts of the country and state. Morgan said she and her family took a vacation during the first part of June and weren't bothered by tons of other summer visitors. "It was nice and quiet still," she said.

Even a reluctant soon-to-be senior like Vincent admits he prefers starting early more than getting out late: "I'd rather get all of June off than all of August."

Reporter Abby Souza can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or [email protected]


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