With barren, empty halls at Woodsboro and New Midway elementary schools, Principal Giuseppe Di Monte began to feel a bit anxious for school to start.
“I think about two weeks ago, I said to myself ‘it’s time,’” Di Monte said. “It’s time for the students to come back.”
An executive order signed by Gov. Larry Hogan in August 2016 extended the summer break for Frederick County Public Schools to about 12 weeks. The decision added about four weeks to the summer vacation, with the break scheduled to start June 15.
While the new calendar was controversial among policymakers at the state and county levels, students, teachers and administrators largely appreciated the extra time away.
“It was a great opportunity not just to spend more time with family and friends, but also with professional learning opportunities,” said Jacqueline Cramer, acting assistant principal at Woodsboro and New Midway elementary schools. Cramer said she was able to attend a K-2 symposium and take a Hood College course in her extra time this summer.
New Midway and Woodsboro elementary schools are small communities, with about 320 students enrolled in the schools combined. Because communities in that part of the county are more spread out, students often don’t get to see one another as much over the summer. This can make returning to school even more exciting for parents and students.
“It just looked like everyone was so energized and ready for school to start this year,” said fourth-grade teacher Ashley Topper. “It was so great at the back-to-school night. So many kids come in and you already know them, so they’re giving you hugs and saying how excited they are.”
As the science curriculum moves to a more hands-on learning environment at the fourth-grade level, the extended break gave Topper more time to brush up on the changes in the curriculum, and learn how to implement them.
The two major concerns with the long 12-week summer schedule for most teachers and administrators are summer learning loss and scheduling challenges.
With fewer calendar days to complete the school year, the schedule provides less wiggle room to make up snow days. The Maryland State Board of Education recently approved a change to the length of the school year that said schools only need to schedule three make-up days in order to obtain a waiver for the 180-day calendar. Previously, schools needed to schedule five extra days in the calendar in order to get the waiver.
On years Labor Day falls on Sept. 7 or Sept. 8, it would be especially hard to schedule the five extra days, the Maryland State Department of Education argued in its request to the board.
While there are some challenges to developing a full schedule, Di Monte said he felt the consistency among schools was beneficial.
“We had several varying non-student days in the past,” Di Monte said. “With this schedule we don’t have any of those. It’s much more consistent across the board.”
The longer break does pose a problem with what students may know as they come into the school year. Summer learning loss has been a major concern at the state level, and was the driving force in the state Department of Education recommending the state move to year-round schooling.
Lindsay Tokar, a second-grade teacher at Woodsboro Elementary, said summer learning loss wasn’t a major concern for her this year. In years past, students struggled to get into a rhythm because of so many days off in September.
“It seemed like almost every week some years, the students had a three-day weekend,” Tokar said. “Now they don’t have as many of those off days and once we get them up to speed we can just hit it full speed ahead.”