A Balanced Calendar offers Positive Benefits for Students, Teachers, and Administrators
By Mitch Smith
MASA Communications Specialist
Often the most difficult decisions that will move schools forward will inevitably entail risk. Baldwin Community Schools’ high school Principal Calvin Patillo faced such a risk when his district moved to a balanced calendar, a risk shared by everyone who worked and lived in the district.
“It was a totally new idea, and one we really didn’t know anything about,” Patillo says. “We didn’t know anybody in the area doing this (balanced calendar approach) or what it was going to look like.”
However, Baldwin Community Schools (BCS) knew they had to do something to stop the summer slide and boost their poor graduation rates. A balanced calendar offered the opportunity to examine education through an unfamiliar lens, and observe students in a very different light. More importantly, it allowed them the potential as a district to be innovative and creative, offer enrichment and remediation to students, as well as offer a constructive opportunity to build relationships with many of their students at a higher level.
This opportunity to deliver school in a different way is especially true for the teachers that work the intersessions, where they recognized the benefits of a lower student-teacher ratio alone, offers the opportunity for educators to get to know the students at a different, more robust level.
“The teacher can better see why students are struggling, what is occurring with them that is contributing to their falling behind in school,” Patillo says.
Teachers that choose to work during intersessions enjoy the opportunities to deliver enhanced opportunities to students as well. They can lead subjects such as robotics and sewing, skills and activities not covered in the state-mandated curriculum.
“If you stay and teach during the intersession, the pace is different and you can use different approaches to learning, explore topics at a more relaxed level, even recapture that love of learning as a teacher,” said Carol Brooks, BCS elementary special education teacher.
More breaks mean more opportunities
According to Brooks, for the students who do not participate in the intersessions, the breaks from the classroom allow student brains to better process what the teachers have been putting in there for the previous marking period.
“When they (the students) come back after the short breaks and two intersessions throughout the year, they are revived, revitalized and ready,” Brooks says.
With BCS’s shortened summer break, six weeks instead of the previous 12 weeks, Brooks says her students remember where they left off with their learning, and are mostly able to pick up at the point where they left off.
“Even my students with special needs say ‘I know this Miss Brooks,’ and they feel great about this,” explained Brooks as she describes the students experience when returning from the shortened summer break.
Not all people are aware of how the brain functions on a basic level and how it processes information that it receives, Brooks explained. ‘You can’t just shove concepts into the student brain without allowing processing time so they can really grasp what they need to learn. The brain needs time to put everything where it needs to go.”
“What is good for the brain of students also has benefits for teachers, staff, and administrators as well,” explains Scott Pedigo, BCS intersession director and science/special education teacher. “Having more balanced breaks throughout the year gives staff more opportunities to get rid of stress from the classroom, offer time to be reflective and reconnect to the reasons they are teachers in the first place.”
“I remember just hanging on for dear life,” Brooks says, reflecting on how she felt working under the former traditional school year calendar. “I remember the first year we operated under the balanced calendar. I could not believe the difference in how I felt at the end of the school year. I did not hate the month of May anymore. I now am able to end the year in a dynamic demeanor, with more personal vitality rather than in a depleted state.”
The extra breaks of a balanced calendar built in throughout the school year strategically offer additional opportunities and times for teachers to receive professional development. Also supporting the benefits of the more frequent breaks and shortened summer recess is the neuroscience research showing how the brain requires stimulation and connection to survive and thrive.
“We have more time as teachers to meet on curriculum development and review, lesson planning together, and an opportunity to collaborate,” Pedigo says. “The whole point of this calendar is how we help the kids. We can do it by having additional time and opportunity for talking collectively about what has been working and what we can do as teachers to get on the same page throughout the district.”
Chunking the school year into more meaningful segments may be worth the risk of trying if only to benefit student and district staff success.