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Year-Round School?

Symposium examines the benefits of going to school all year.

As summer break approaches for Arlington students, some in Fairfax County are expecting to remain in class during the coming months because of the adopted year-round schedule. Yet going to class year-round comes with its own benefits, as educators said Monday night during a symposium on modified-calendar schools at Marymount University Monday night.

"It's most beneficial to second language learners," said Dan Domenech, former superintendent for Fairfax County Schools and president of McGraw-Hill Education. "It offers educators a means to closing the achievement gap."

Domenech was joined by Marymount Professor Shelly Haser, author of "Year Round Education," a chronicle of three case studies done during two years of research at three Fairfax County Schools that made the transition to a modified calendar.

"The year-round format is not a new idea," Haser said, pointing to school in Europe. "There, it's just the way school has always been scheduled."

Haser said that for students, year-round schooling means improved learning with less time to forget lessons during breaks. It also means more vacation options during winter and spring. For students learning English, Haser said, the shorter breaks help them to retain the language lessons by doing away with the "law of summer" and keeping them in practice. Students learning English also get more out of Intersession classes, Haser's study found. Those classes, aimed at developing reading and writing ability, she said, can prove invaluable.

"Today, the Intersession programs amount to being the reason for schools to go on a year-round schedule," said Haser.

UNDER A YEAR-ROUND calendar system, Haser said students are in class the same number of days as a regular school year, but time off is broken apart into a series of two-week breaks. Students spend nine weeks in class with two weeks off and one month off during the summer and time off for holidays.

In Europe, Haser said, there are two methods schools use for the year-round system. One is called a single-track method, when all students move through the school year all at the same time. A second is a multi-track system, splitting the student body into different groups that rotate in and out of school throughout the year. This is done to alleviate overcrowding.

Haser added that the teachers she interviewed at the year-round schools report that the new format enables them to create a more concerted effort towards education. For immigrant families, Haser said, year-round schooling affords them the chance to travel to their home countries during the winter, something Haser said has at times contributed to absenteeism in schools.

And year-round schooling, Haser said, is good for teachers. It allows them to take vacations during the winter, offers staggered time off during the school year and gives teachers with families more time at home.

According to Domenech, making the transition to a year-round calendar was an involved process, but the cost to the school district was less than anyone expected.

"The original costs came out to about $100,000 more per school," he said. "There was some added costs associated with the Intersession classes, but if we didn't have that, we'd be doing some other kind of intervention."

The National Association for Year-Round Education reportes that since 1980, more than 3,000 schools have made the switch to the year-round format, the majority in California, Utah and Nevada.