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Shorter summer for students

A shorter summer is better in the long run, according to staff at two Metro Vancouver schools that have successfully transitioned to a “balanced calendar” system.

Four years ago, Garden City Elementary School in Richmond shrank its summer down to six weeks and added an extra week onto its spring and Christmas breaks.

Principal Diane Steele said two-month summers were too disruptive to her students’ educations, particularly for the 58 per cent who are English language learners.

“The longer they can be in school the better because they may not be speaking English at all at home,” Steele said.

Research also suggests students forget math lessons and disadvantaged students lose reading skills over a long summer break, particularly at the elementary level, according to a report from the Centre for the Study of Educational Leadership and Policy.

Grace Cheng of the Garden City parent advisory council said families benefit from the extended spring and Christmas breaks as well, which make it easier to plan trips without cutting into their children’s school year.

“It gives them more options to take vacation times,” Cheng said, “so less absenteeism.”

About 100 schools across Canada have embraced the balanced calendar, though only five are found in B.C. Douglas Park Community School in Langley made the switch 10 years ago, shortening summer to six weeks and adding a week off in May and November.

Officials said the school saw improvement in students’ reading scores and numeracy scores after the change.

The Vancouver School Board has flirted with the idea of testing out a balanced calendar, though superintendent Steve Caldwell said there are concerns communities might not embrace it right away.

“People don’t want to give up their summers,” Caldwell said, “although a balanced calendar doesn’t actually give up a long summer. They still have five or six weeks.”

Response in schools that undergo the switch is overwhelmingly positive, he added.

“Staff love it, parents love, students love it.”

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