Longer school year would be lunacy

Open letter to the parents of elementary school students: So how does keeping your young child in school until almost the end of June sound to you?

Open letter to the parents of elementary school students:

So how does keeping your young child in school until almost the end of June sound to you?

I just sat through a strange staff meeting where we were given choices for the starting dates of the next school year. The funny thing about these choices was that we had starting dates, but no finishing dates. Rumours in the Yukon start quickly and rarely can the flames be doused before there is some damage done. The rumours that are smouldering now seem to suggest that the powers that be want to extend the Yukon elementary school year by about one week.

When these poorly-thought-out decisions suddenly come down the pipe, I often wonder who planted the original seed, and why the idea grew so quickly.

My greatest personal example of why this is such a foolish idea happened one warm day in June. I was trying to teach a 10-year-old boy the importance of geometric transformations. He had been repeatedly staring out the window at a green forest and a far-away green ball diamond when I walked by and whispered, “Get on task.”

He sort of quietly moaned and replied: “It’s just wrong to be stuck in here when it’s so nice outside.”

I followed his gaze to the great outdoors and nodding, I agreed with him. It’s just wrong.

I guess someone from the department read a recent report, written down south somewhere, in some ivory towers of higher education, that suggests the time span of summer holiday was much too long. This gigantic span of time caused the poor student to lose much of their learning. The obvious solution must have been to cut down on summer holidays so that the young impressionable minds can stay at school later and start up again much earlier.

This goes against my personal belief that a Yukon summer has nothing to offer a 10-year-old mind. I believe that trails and lakes teach a multitude of lessons. I believe that a dusty ball diamond or a Chilkoot excursion has a myriad of opportunities to expand a young mind. I believe that catching, gutting and cooking your first grayling teaches biology better than chapters in a science textbook.

Having taught for 31 years, with 25 of them here in the Yukon, has shown me a few things. Yukon kids start to use their summer as soon as it arrives and they go at it hard and fast. They bike late and play late. They play sports and utilize the outdoors as long as the sun lasts. They then often show up at school, tired and listless.

We teachers use every trick of pedagogy to try to stimulate these tired individuals, but often to no avail. I use the last week of school for a week-long camp at Jackson Lake so that I can once again see the squirrel-bright eyes of students who are ready to explore and learn.

So here are the facts. The Department of Education (not elementary school teachers) thought it would be a great idea to actually shorten the teaching day during the winter, when it is bitterly cold and dark and a rather nice time to be inside, and then lengthen the total number of days we must remain in school. This lengthening would happen in June, hence a closing date next year of June 21.

Who would take an “Outside” idea like that and jam it down the throats of us northerners? Who would shorten winter school days and force the youngsters to stay until solstice? “Hey kiddies, it is solstice today. The days will start getting shorter now so we will let you out for summer holidays.”

If I were the minister of Education, we would start after Labour Day, work longer hours during the winter and get out around the May long weekend.

Dawson is allowed to adjust its school year for the tourist season so I feel the department should at least learn to adjust for our students too.

Lengthen the school year? That to me borders on lunacy. Please phone your principal and your school council members. This idea needs to be looked at and discussed, not just forced upon us.

Pete Harms


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