Commentary: Starting school earlier would have adverse effect on community

I am writing today to share my concerns about the proposed early start calendars for Shenandoah County Public Schools in the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years.  If this calendar is approved, school will start as early as Aug. 6.  I believe there are many more negative impacts to starting significantly earlier than there are benefits.

Students and teachers who work seasonal jobs will be negatively impacted. Many of our students, some starting even in middle school, have summer employment.  Almost all of these jobs are seasonal in nature.  In addition to other jobs, our students are lifeguards, farm workers, camp counselors, amusement park attendants and retreat center workers. The majority of these employments require work during the traditional summer season – Memorial Day to Labor Day.  For those students who work in our agricultural sector, it will be especially difficult to have a return to school in early August, as that is a busy time on farms for harvest and hay making.

An early August start will also have a negative impact on the local tourism industry, and will cause our local towns to lose money from lack of business at the town pools.

Changing the calendar to such a radically early start will conflict with many long-established family traditions such as family reunions, beach trips, amusement park visits, and long lazy end of summer days at the pool.  This is especially true for parents who work for the federal government.  Many D.C.-employed parents must take their vacations during the August recess.

The proposed calendars include a week off for students during the Shenandoah County Fair.   If students have a full week off three weeks into school, the beginning of the year momentum will be lost, and teachers will spend the majority of the week after the fair reteaching strategies and expectations.  Additionally, this will create an unnecessary burden on parents.  It will be more difficult for parents to arrange for one week of child care after school has started than it would be for them to send them to camps and day programs prior to the start of school.

The primary reason schools Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Raley has given for making this change is that it will benefit students because of the Standards of Learning testing window.  According to the Virginia Department of Education website, this year’s testing window runs from the beginning of April to June 24th.  Individual schools need to spread the testing out because of special needs students with individual testing accommodations and to ensure that there are adequate computers for testing.

Starting school earlier will not eliminate any extra instructional time after SOL testing.  It will only mean that the extra time will come earlier in the calendar year.

More time to prepare for advanced placement Exams has also been given as a reason to change the calendar.  However, our top students  have primarily shifted to taking dual enrollment classes instead of advanced placement exams.   Thus, testing prep time for these exams is no longer a significant issue for our students.

In closing, I believe that holding school during the majority of August would have severely adverse effects on our teachers, our students, our communities and our families.  The benefit gained by such an early start would be minimal, but the hardship would be significant.

Cinde Eash Boyden is a Central High School teacher, a W.W. Robinson Elementary and Peter Muhlenberg Middle school parent and an Edinburg area resident.

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