Before the program was eliminated in 2010, the last week of July meant returning to class for the seven Fairfax County schools operating on a modified, year-round calendar.
Unfortunately, the decision to scrap the year-round program had more to do with saving money than developing young minds.
Four years ago, Fairfax County’s school system was facing a budget deficit of about $200 million and left few stones unturned in its search for nickels and dimes. Ultimately, the School Board voted to end year-round school programs — a move that saved $600,000 and eliminated seven positions.
Although FCPS superintendent Karen Garza and the School Board have plenty of items on their current to-do list, revisiting the pros and cons of a modified calendar should be among them.
Advocates of year-round school calendars, such as the National Association for Year-Round Education, insist the schedule promotes student achievement by lessening the gaps between vacation and school time. During the decade the year-round program was in place at Dogwood, Graham Road and other Fairfax-based elementary schools, teachers, students, and parents gave it rave reviews.
More than a few national studies echoed those sentiments.
Year-round education reorganizes the 180-day school year to provide more continuous learning by spacing the long summer vacation into shorter, more frequent vacations throughout the year. Students and teachers attend school for nine weeks (45 days), then are on a three-week vacation (15 days). That sequence is repeated four times each year. During the three-week breaks, called inter-sessions, students seeking extra help have access to it.
Proponents cite increased student achievement, improved attendance and expanded opportunities for remediation and enrichment. Many also believe the modified calendar also minimizes holiday learning loss, particularly in math and science.
Unlike a majority of their counterparts, year-round students don’t spend the better part of September and October “relearning” material from the previous spring.
The traditional calendar now in place at every Fairfax County elementary school clearly was not created with chemistry and calculus in mind. It was devised more than a century ago to serve agrarian communities that needed children to help on the farm during summer months. The need for three months off between June and September is, at best, diminishing.
A handful of national studies have shown that going with a modified calendar has a positive impact on student achievement. At the very least, it’s a better alternative to spending countless hours and millions of dollars on remediation and review fueled largely by the endless summer break.
We understand that money remains tight and Fairfax County has a punch list that stretches from Reston to Roanoke. That said, the modified calendar is a subject worth further discussion.