A twelve-month school year has the potential of bringing about many positive changes in a rigid system. One thing that would have to change is the use made of the school building. Other changes will occur as teachers confer with each other and exchange ideas.
School buildings have traditionally been shut down during the summer months. This is vacation time for the staff. Normally, it is impossible to work anyhow in most of these buildings because they lack air-conditioning. During the school year, buildings are usually open from 8AM to 4PM. All of this could change if schools began to function on a twelve-month schedule. School facilities could be used to their fullest.
School buildings should be known as educational centers and be available for the educational enterprises of the whole community. The school building should be available to the community from 6AM to late in the evening, six days a week from January to December. This would require upgrading most schools not only by adding air-conditioning but also by reconfiguring space to make it more adaptable for use in different activities and by various group sizes. As things now stand, the buildings are under-utilized. The equipment, books, supplies, and material in most buildings are used only for short periods of time. Most material is discarded because it becomes obsolete rather than worn from use. Equipment is usually kept in individual classrooms and when the teachers are not there, the rooms are locked and the material sits unused.
Instead of each classroom having its own equipment, a more useful concept is a media center. The Media Center, including the Library, would house the VCR equipment, TVs, computers, books and other materials necessary for the educational endeavor. Like the kitchen, cafeteria and gym facilities, it should be easily accessible to everyone in the building. In this way, maximum use is made of everything in the building on a year round basis.
The Educational Enterprise should be available for all ages. Pre-school children and children whose parents work should have access to it as early as 7AM and should be able to stay until 6PM. Children who require an after-school program would remain in the building under the supervision of that program’s staff. Senior citizens could make use of the building at times when space becomes available. When senior citizens begin coming to the Educational Building, the opportunity is available for them to see ways in which their particular skills would be helpful to the staff and students. The offices of administrators should also be in the Educational Building. Sometimes administrators get so far away from the students that they lose contact with the real world in the schools and become less effective.
Schools open all year could be reorganized for more flexibility in planning not only teachers’ schedules but also students’ schedules. The vacations of the students and teachers could be staggered over the year in order to make full use of the school facility.
The way is also open to reorganize the structure of classes and discard grade designations. Since the school is open twelve months, it would no longer be necessary to have the first grade, second grade and so forth. The present grade system divides time into blocks and some children fail because they cannot keep to this rigid pre-determined schedule. A better system involves individualized programs in which children advance when they have achieved mastery. Acknowledgement would, therefore, be made of differences in maturation rates, interests and learning styles.
With a twelve-month school year, teachers will have time to confer with each other to consider more flexible ways to use their time and talents. Teachers, who feel comfortable with the team teaching concept, might try an arrangement where two teachers are responsible for one class. One teacher comes in the morning and the other comes in the afternoon. This type of arrangement is convenient when teachers want to have time to take courses, to observe and train interns, and to attend professional workshops. When one teacher is out, the other teacher takes over. This and other types of arrangements guarantee continuity of instruction to the students and give the teachers the flexibility needed to accomplish their goals.
Another way to achieve flexibility is to have a group of children assigned to several teachers for a period of years or to have one teacher continue with the class. A school of 2000 children from grades five to high school in Cologne, Germanyuses this system. Eighty-five to ninety students are assigned to a team of six to eight teachers. The students never experience a substitute teacher. All of the decisions are made by this teaching team: how the students will be grouped; which teachers will be assigned to which students; who will teach any subject and how many subjects will be taught each day. In addition, this team of teachers remains with the same students for six years.
When teachers are given the opportunity to communicate with each other over educational issues, they have the possibility of attempting new and potentially more successful teaching strategies. The teachers in Cologne, Germanydecided to use the technique of cooperative learning in their classes. Pupils work in groups of five and six and are of mixed ability levels. There is a minimum of teacher talking and lecturing. Students are actively engaged, working on problems together, helping and learning from each other.
Another group of teachers restructured the curriculum and began the Key School. These teachers decided to tap students’ multiple intelligences through the use of an interdisciplinary curriculum. The curriculum they developed is tied together by themes that span all grades and subjects which change over the course of the year. In addition, the students receive instruction in the basic academic subject. These teachers not only are using their gifts and creative talents for the good of their students, they are making teaching an exciting, vibrant and involved profession.
The introduction of the twelve-month school year has the potential for bringing about major changes in a rigid system that finds it difficult to change. It will cost money, of course, but so do military weapons, bail-outs of financial institutions and other changes.
Now is the time for change. Our children deserve nothing less than total commitment on our part.
Photo credit: Rallenhill / Creative Commons 2.0