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For Some Kids, Summer School Now the Norm

Jennifer Greiner, left, holding daughter Lila, 5, talks with Susan Paley Farkas, husband Danny and son Zeke, 4, at a Mount Vernon Elementary School open house. Mount Vernon's school year, which started Monday, will proceed in nine-week blocks, with two-week breaks in the fall and winter and a three-week spring break. Proponents say it will help children retain what they have learned.
Jennifer Greiner, left, holding daughter Lila, 5, talks with Susan Paley Farkas, husband Danny and son Zeke, 4, at a Mount Vernon Elementary School open house. Mount Vernon's school year, which started Monday, will proceed in nine-week blocks, with two-week breaks in the fall and winter and a three-week spring break. Proponents say it will help children retain what they have learned. (Ryan Anson For The Washington Post)

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By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 4, 2005

Last Friday, mothers and fathers could be seen around Alexandria's Del Ray neighborhood, walking hand in hand with their children in the annual ritual of going to school to meet their teachers in preparation for the first day

Unlike in years past, the return to school this year was not marked by falling leaves or cool breezes. This week, while most kids were still in summer camp or hanging around at home, Mount Vernon Elementary School became the second school in Alexandria to switch to a modified calendar that shortens summer vacation to around a month and adds vacation time during the school year.

On Friday, students attended an open house to meet their new teachers in preparation for Monday, when -- as a large banner outside the school reminded everyone -- classes would begin.

Principal Lulu Lopez greeted students at the door, giving exuberant hugs to returning students and their parents, switching languages depending on who walked in: "Good morning . . . . B ienvenido. . . . Nice to see you. . . . Are you happy to be back?"

Yolanda Salazar stood in her son David's new first-grade classroom and watched him name colors and shapes from charts on the wall as his new teacher, Barbara Kirkland, smiled encouragingly. His sister Ashley, a third-grader, showed off her tae kwon do skills.

"I love it," Salazar said of the modified calendar. "They're very excited, they're ready." The family had gone to Target and Wal-Mart the day before for school supplies, she said, getting there before most families in the area arrive in late August to pick the stores bare.

Salazar, who works full time as a loan officer, said the schedule would add quality time to her children's lives, giving them a place to study and socialize "rather than sitting around watching TV and waiting for me to get home."

Other parents wandering the school's halls echoed that sentiment, saying that by August they have often run out of activities for their children.

Besides keeping kids occupied, supporters of the change say, the modified calendar reduces the amount of academic information the kids forget over the summer and must relearn. This is especially true for the 53 percent of Mount Vernon's students who are learning English as a second language and may not hear a lot of it spoken at home, Lopez said. She added that the modified calendar would also help the 120 students in Mount Vernon's dual-language program, in which instruction takes place in English and Spanish.

The school year will proceed in nine-week blocks, with two-week breaks in the fall and winter and a three-week break in the spring. During the breaks, students can opt to take "intersession" courses, either for remedial work or to pursue "enrichment" subjects -- such as foreign languages, drama or cooking -- that the school does not have time to offer during the regular school year.

Proponents praise the idea of students who need remedial work getting it throughout the year, rather than waiting until summer school, and they note that the arrangement allows families with relatives abroad to travel outside the country more easily during the school year.

Lopez, who previously was principal of two schools in Los Angeles that had year-round calendars, said she and Alexandria Schools Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry began discussing the possibility of a modified calendar in 2001. She and staff members and parents spent time at Fairfax and Arlington county schools that had made the switch. (In Arlington, one school -- Barcroft Elementary -- adopted the modified calendar two years ago. Its classes begin today.)


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