May was countdown month, especially for the senior in our family. He is now through with one school system and ready for another. It will be different next year, even though he earned some college credit while at Manti High School.
All the kids in our family knew at any given moment how many days were left in the school year. The countdown was of what they called ASDs, "actual school days." This means they didn't count field day, senior sluff, the May Day program, yearbook day, Lagoon day, track meet days, book check in day, graduation day. . . . The point is that some days were fun enough or easy enough not to count. Perhaps the alternate translation is that fun doesn't count in school.Perhaps a point could be made about the number of days school is open for activities that seem unrelated to the purpose of the school: education. Maybe pointing to these non-educational school days would only identify points of disagreement with people accusing each other of not really understanding. Some school days ought to be recreation days and some days must take care of housekeeping and administrative chores necessary to the operation of the school.
As the kids counted down in May, my memory was good enough to remember them counting up nine months ago. Even the older kids looked forward to the new year with some anticipation. There was the ritual of getting the proper wardrobe for the new school year and making some new resolves about study habits and grades. This was to be the year of lower pants and higher grades.
I even remember a bit of anticipation about what may have been forgotten during the summer vacation. There were some questions about whether or not they could make it in a math or science class that built on the previous year of experience.
There was some doubt in the mind of the youngest about remembering all her math. Some students wonder if they will find their way around a new building.
An observation from teachers is that the worries during the count-up are very real. Many say that the first few weeks of the new year are taken up with review of the past year's work.
Perhaps this concern by teachers is beyond the actual number of days in school. Perhaps a question needs to be asked about the proper length of needed vacation times. A vacation from school needs to be long enough to be invigorating but short enough that extensive review is not necessary.
Since the system is slow to change, and summer vacations will continue to be long for most students, it may be that parents need to change perspectives a bit and think of summer vacation as a time when they are in full charge of the educational program of their children. It is both an opportunity and a responsibility. Unless children are old enough to be in charge of their own summer education, the responsibility belongs completely to the parents. Parents can accomplish two goals with a home summer education program. They can prevent the backslide that can happen with an extended vacation and they can enrich what the school has done during the past years. They can accomplish these goals while the kids get a needed break from the formal school routine.
It can be tempting for some parents who want to see educational progress with their kids during the summer to turn the job over to others by investing in camps, summer classes, programs provided by the schools and libraries, and other agencies.
Although there are many quality programs offered in the summer, it may be that we miss an opportunity if we rely just on programs we purchase for the kids. Sometimes money doesn't seem to buy real education.
Summer can be a time for the family to read a book together, perhaps while on vacation. Each member of the family could read a different book and report on it. It may be fun for some families to undertake some research project. Maybe this is the summer to learn about the environment, to study together the geography of the state, to find where there are petroglyphs in Utah, to count birds, to watch animals, or to explore pioneer or Indian sites. This may be the summer to get a centennial passport from the Best Western or Utah Travel Council and try to get it stamped in every Utah county.
As important as what is learned is the value of learning together. It tells students by example that learning is fun and important. It can also bring families closer together. From the point of view of the school, students won't return in the fall needing to be retaught how to study, and they will still return invigorated since their summer was not more of the same. Learning together in the summer does have a down side. The day may be so fun that they don't count.