Summer Slide: Michiana school district turns to balanced calendar

ROCHESTER Summer learning loss is a phenomenon happening across the country, and experts at the national level are looking into possible solutions. In South Bend and surrounding communities, schools are working to incorporate more summer learning programs, and they are asking the state for help financially.

Another Michiana district is fighting the achievement gap in a different way, with a balanced calendar. Rochester Community Schools have been on this unique schedule since the 2007-08 school year. It works the same as a regular calendar except students and faculty have longer breaks in the fall, around the holidays and in the spring, and a shorter summer vacation.

Rochester Community Schools let out for the year at the end of May, but they return in early August. In 2014, the corporation goes back to school August 5.

"I love the balanced calendar," said Columbia Elementary principal, Tami Mcmahan.

"It helps keep everyone on track. It keeps our students engaged," said Mcmahan.

Traditional school calendars typically include 10-11 weeks of summer vacation. In Rochester, they've become accustomed to eight or nine since 2007.

"Just abruptly ending our summer, especially the first year we did it, it was rough," said high school teacher, Amy Blackburn.

"Now, I think all the teachers, all the parents, all the students are used to it and it doesn't make that much of a difference," said Blackburn.

Another unique component to the balanced calendar is what the school corporation calls Intersession. These week-long periods take place during the two week breaks, mostly for students who need remediation. Intersession is optional but strongly recommended to students who are behind.

"For those students that benefit from having a routine and staying in a pattern of learning, Intercession is a great opportunity for them to participate and not get out of the swing of things," said Mcmahan.

At the elementary level, Intersession is used as a kick start before the next grading period. In middle school, teachers use the time for remediation and in high school, students work on credit recovery.

Concerns over the balanced calendar are usually centered around the effects of a shortened summer on jobs and sports, but students in the program say it doesn't set them back. In fact, the Rochester football program still claimed a co-conference championship title in 2013.

"We had a football camp earlier in the summer than most schools have theirs," said Braxton Lee, a recent Rochester High School graduate.

"I don't think it sets our football program behind. We still show up and we still practice, we just don't have two-a-days," said Lee in reference to the amount of times the team practices before games start.

For more information about Rochester School Corporation's balanced calendar, click here for the website.

If you missed part 1 or 2 of the Summer Slide Series, click the links below.

Summer Slide: The reality of summer learning loss for students.

Summer Slide: Solutions for summer learning loss.

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