Year-round schools are a welcome way of life for many families in Utah County. But educators and patrons alike believe much must be done to perfect a system that is becoming more and more popular as a partial remedy for overcrowded schools and tight education dollars.
Brian Page, assistant superintendent of instructional services for Alpine School District, said, "We sense that teachers like it, but we get mixed reactions from students and parents. Students see other kids who are out when they are in school, and it changes the configuration of child care, sometimes creating a hardship. It isn't a complete panacea."For the most part, however, Page said people are happy with year-round and extended-day educational programs.
In the Nebo School District, only one school - Grant Elementary in Springville - is on a year-round schedule. Three other schools are on extended-day programs.
Clara Lee Clark, principal at Grant, said year-round school is held for 220 days from Aug. 22 to July 22. Students must attend 180 days and can make up time for sickness if needed.
She said students are usually absent two days a month during the regular school year. During the summer they attend school two or three days a week.
Upper-grade students keep on track with their class by testing in and out of concepts.
The Nebo program, in its fourth year, was made possible through a productivity grant. The district received approval to continue with the program using district funds.
"It is not a cost item to the district because we absorb 20 percent more students," Clark said. "On any given day, a number of kids are absent."
She said students seem to like the program because it gives them something to do. "Summer gets old after awhile." The drawback to the Nebo program is letting people know what the program is
all about and that it really works.
Students enrolled in the extended-day programs attend one of two sessions of school every day or attend half days until they are in the upper grades.
The staggered schedule allows school districts to hire fewer teachers and use fewer rooms. Money that would have otherwise gone to those areas can be used to fund special work areas such as computer labs, said J. Lynn Jones, principal at Ne-bo's Taylor Elementary.
Taylor Elementary is on extended day, making it 20 percent more efficient, Jones said. "Teachers are really supportive and like it because they can make more money," he said.
Brenda Sabey, a teacher at Sage Creek Elementary in Springville, said the extended-day program, "gives teachers a chance to specialize in an area. I like it just as well if not better than the regular program."
In the Alpine School District, three elementary schools are on year-round programs and one more will be added to the list this fall. Alpine has its own brand of year-round schools patterned after the schedule at Orchard Elementary School, where the program originated three years ago.
Year-round schools in Alpine are on a 60-15 schedule, meaning 60 days in school and 15 days out of school. Students have 11 months to get 180 days of schooling.
Most schools have children on five learning tracks. Twenty percent of the children are out of school and 80 percent in school at any given time.
But for Pam Smart, a parent of a student at Orchard Elementary, year-round schools are not all they are cracked up to be.
"The biggest thing I don't like is that kids miss three weeks of school and they miss things," she said. "While they are out, the momentum for school is lost and they have a hard time getting back into the swing of things when they do.
"One of my beefs is that kids switch teachers so much in order for teachers to teach them what they've missed when off track. There is also a lack of bonding with the teacher because they have to switch around so much."
Smart has had three children attend year-round schools and said she doesn't mind having them in school during the summer, but she gets tired of hearing them complain about it.
"They do not like being in school in the summer. They see their friends on vacation and want to be also. Summer months are not conducive to learning because it's too hot."
Most schools on year-round schedules allow students to wear modest shorts to school.
Another Orchard Elementary parent who asked to not be identified said, "I'm not happy with it (ear-round school). It bothers me because it's hard on our lifestyle. I feel they don't need to be out during the school year. I'm just not pleased to have them go back to school in August because summer is still here."
Jim Melville, a sixth-grade teacher at Orchard, said, "For me it's a real advantage because I can teach the full year. My salary goes up, and that's a real plus for me because then I don't have to get another job."
Alpine School District also has nine schools on extended days and plans to add three more this fall.
In the Provo School District, three elementary schools are on a 45-days-on, 15-days-off schedule. Students are on four tracks.
Vern Brimley, Provo District's director of supportive services, said three year-round schools save the district the cost of constructing another school.
"Data show that they do as well as students on the regular calendar year schedule and that there is a small edge for those students at year-round schools," he said. "There is better retention for the students and they are ready to go to work after 15 days off."
Page said "we virtually don't have a choice" except to go with year-round or extended-day programs - referring to the Legislature's school building utilization law passed two years ago. The law requires schools to utilize at least 70 percent of their capacity. If the requirement isn't met, educators must consolidate schools or justify why they are not consolidating so they meet the state standard by 1990.