Are year-round schools in Michigan's future?

Spurred on by $2 million in Michigan Department of Education of grant funding and additional dollars from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, seven districts around the state are piloting a transition to a year-round school calendar during the 2014-2015 school year.
 
For students, parents and staff at Horizon Elementary School in Holt, Mich., however, year-round school is nothing new, and all groups have come to one agreement: there are definite benefits. Horizon is leading the year-round schooling charge not only locally, but as a model for schools across the state.
 
Operating on a year-round calendar since it opened 21 years ago, Horizon Elementary implemented the year-round system -- also referred to as a balanced school calendar or balanced schedule -- long before the current movement the calendar is now seeing.
 
David Hornak, principal of Horizon Elementary and an advocate for the balanced schedule, sees no end in sight.
 
“This is the idea of the future and I believe it's going to accrue some rapid growth. It's good for kids, good for teachers and it's good for families.”
 
It's pretty hard to argue with that.
 
The current traditional calendar, still most prevalent in schools nationally, is based around an outdated time of America as a primarily agrarian society. The year-round schooling concept, though finding its footing through the 1900s, finally caught national recognition in April of 1972 when the House of Representatives held a hearing on the year-round school concept. From there, numerous bills in support of the balanced schedule have been debated both at the state and federal levels.
 
The year-round movement has gained some serious steam in the last decade, with 3,059 year-round public schools in 2000 growing to 3,700 nationwide in the 2011-2012 school year, according to the Congressional Research Service.
 
Though popularity for the system has increased, Hornak says he still runs into what he refers to as the “urban legend” of the year-round system -- people believe children go to school more on a year-round schedule than kids on a traditional operating system.
 
“That's not the case,” Hornak said. “We're using the time we have been given, but we're using it more efficiently.”
 
In fact, Horizon Elementary students and staff do get a summer break. A six week break commences the last week of June and extends through the early parts of August. From there, shorter breaks are sprinkled between holidays and traditional time off such as spring break.
 
“The scattered breaks give teachers the ability to look at where they've been and where they're going,” Hornak said. “It allows both students and teachers to recharge and reenergize, which leads to enthusiastic classrooms and energetic children which leads to student achievement.”
 
The system seems to be making parents of students enthusiastic as well -- Horizon has a waiting list at many of its grade levels.
 
In some cases, a balanced schedule allows for convenient flexibility in the school year calendar. As Hornak presents the balanced calendar to other districts, he emphasizes the opportunity for uniqueness from school to school.
 
“Part of this system is about finding out what your community really wants,” Hornak said. “People are worried about when to take the breaks and I tell them, that's up to you guys. It's another benefit to this calendar, it's up to the community to establish that.”
 
Aside from the flexibility in scheduling, Hornak, along with administrators nationwide, have seen positive results in the most crucial areas of schooling, including higher attendance rates than traditional counterparts and improved academic achievement.
 
“The balanced school calendar reduces the amount of learning loss that occurs annually over the summer,” Hornak said. “By reducing the amount of loss, the number of days it takes to remediate the lost knowledge, the research on the balanced school calendar demonstrates a benefit to all children. The calendar works and should be considered as a way to mitigate the learning loss that occurs annually.”
 
Hornak himself is something of a rock star in the education world. Whether in the halls of Horizon, or traveling statewide to present the balanced calendar to interested school districts, Hornak is committed to the advancement of year-round schooling. Hornak has spoken at a number of local events including TEDx Lansing and the recent CATALYST: Capital Region Prosperity Project event. He was featured as a “Dreamer” at the event and his presentation centered around his educational ideals for the region, and involved him reading the children’s book Chicka Chicka Boom Boom to the audience.
 
“My CATALYST vision for the greater Lansing area involved a literate society where every adult models how important reading is,” Hornak said. “My fears center on the fact we have a growing number of adults choosing not to read. The academic term for this population is aliterate. Aliterate adults are capable of reading, but choose not to read. Children are watching the adults in their lives daily lives and we must model the importance of reading.
 
In alignment with his goal of achieving high levels of literacy in greater Lansing, Hornak believes that the area is ready for change. With support growing in administrators, parents and yes -- even students, the balanced calendar could be looking at a major uptick. This flourishing support may ultimately provide more of Michigan’s students access to a year-round education, as modeled right here in the capital area.
 
This piece was made possible through a partnership with InspirED Michigan, a project of the Michigan Public Schools Partnership. MPSP is a coalition of more than 50 education-related organizations, school districts and individuals committed to promoting the good news about Michigan public schools. To subscribe to the monthly e-newsletter, click here.

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Photos © Dave Trumpie
 
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
 
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