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posted: 9/2/2014 1:01 AM

Editorial: The shift to a school calendar that makes sense

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  • Barrington High School became the latest suburban school to change its calendar to end the first semester before, not after, winter break.

      Barrington High School became the latest suburban school to change its calendar to end the first semester before, not after, winter break.
    Photo by Mark Black

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Some of the best ideas are those that make sense for all the right reasons.

They're efficient, cost-effective and play to the strengths of everyone involved.

They often start small, get noticed, and soon spread -- Voila! There's a trend.

Kind of like changing the high school calendar to start the academic year earlier and end first semester before the winter break.

Gone is the post-holiday haze for students and the need to reteach and ramp up for finals. Kids and teachers return rested and ready to start a new term.

It's a calendar that many suburban high schools have decided makes sense, and it's one all of them should consider. That a handful of districts cling to the old model is puzzling.

And, while we're talking about change, let's also consider breaking the mold on another idea -- a later start to the school day.

This year, Barrington High School became the latest to join the growing list of suburban schools to change their calendar so first-semester exams are taken before, not after, winter break.

High schools that made the change years ago include Grant, Mundelein and Warren Township. More recent converts include the high schools in Elgin Area Unit District U-46 and Carpentersville-based Unit District 300.

Maine Township High School District 207 will switch next year.

"We think teachers can be more efficient with instruction this way because they won't need to reteach material that may have become a little hazy because of the two-week interruption that happens with winter break," District 207 Communications Director Dave Beery told the Daily Herald's Melissa Silverberg.

Supporters of the revised academic calendar offer plenty of reasons why it works in addition to dispensing with finals before a two-week break. They range from having more days of instruction before standardized and Advance Placement testing in the spring to creating more productive classes in the days leading up to winter break.

Students would even get out of school earlier in the spring and get a jump on finding and starting summer jobs and other endeavors.

As for whether to change the start of the class day, that's trickier.

While there are lots of experts who argue a later start -- at least 8:30 a.m. -- would benefit teens, transportation costs, after-school sports, homework time and jobs are major obstacles.

Still, the American Academy of Pediatrics says the move would help curb teens' lack of sleep, which has been linked to poor health, bad grades, car crashes and other problems.

The academy cites studies showing delaying start times can lead to more nighttime sleep and improve student mood and motivation in class.

Makes sense, right? Can it be done in a way that is efficient, cost-effective and plays to the strengths of everyone involved? It's worth a look.

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