For kids’ sake, start school in August, end in May

Memorial Day Weekend is the unofficial start of summer.  For most students in the nation it is also the end of the school year. It’s time that we in Boston make the end of May the end of our school year too.

This of course would mean starting our school year earlier in order to satisfy the Commonwealth’s 180 school day minimum. Thus we would have school from the beginning of August to the end of May.  Let me give you three reasons why:

First, every student in late May and in all of June is itching to go outside, to move around, and to grow – both literally and figuratively. Keeping students in chairs is like squeegeeing against the tide.  We should let the horses run, as it were, and then when they are tired, we call them back to the classroom.

Second, Advanced Placement (AP) exams are in mid-May. Students who start school in August have a full month more to study for the AP exams. Starting classes in September puts our students at a significant disadvantage. Imagine you are running a race and when the starter’s pistol goes off you wait until the other runners have completed 10% of the journey before you start moving.

With college debt so astronomically high, we need to do all we can to give our students the best possible advantage. Our students’ chances of obtaining college credit for their AP scores – and thus less student debt – would improve significantly if they had the same amount of time as the students who start school in August.

Additionally, the month after the AP exam is often unproductive. Certainly students can study the topic more, but studying in June does not help them on the May AP exam. And if we are being honest, psychologically most students feel that they are done with the class after the AP exam. Thus starting in August a better option.

Third, having one more month of good weather at the start of school would allow for more outdoor activities and field trips.  Six weeks ago I took 56 Boston Public School students to Japan. We spent a day at Boston Latin Academy’s sister school in Kyoto. In the Japanese educational system the start of the school year is spring, the time of new beginnings.  We, conversely, start our school year with the unofficial end of summer. Psychologically we tell children that summer fun ends on Labor Day; no wonder children associate school with the end of joy and freedom.

Starting school at the height of summer still allows for ample after-school activities. The long summer days would still give children plenty of time to play outside which is an important component of cognitive development.

When I was a rookie teacher my mentor, William Sullivan, requiescat in pace, advised me to finish teaching any new concepts by April vacation. He was right. Once the good weather is upon us, spring fever makes it very difficult to teach the students the intricacies of the subjunctive mood. Reviewing old material for mastery is a far better option once the weather is 80 degrees and sunny.

All of the above pre-supposes air conditioning. For years I have advocated for AC in the BPS. Finally in 2022 then-superintendent  Brenda Cassellius ordered AC window units installed in the classrooms. It was – and still is – an amazing start.  Just so everyone knows, there are still several BPS schools without any AC; and those that did get the window units, they were only for traditional classrooms. Cafeterias, libraries, hallways, bathrooms, et al. are still hot and humid.  Central AC – like they have in the Bolling Building, City Hall, and just about everywhere else – is desperately needed.

In the meantime, we are over-testing our students in the good weather and in the hot schools. Starting on May 6, my students will have had two weeks of AP exams, a week of MCAS mathematics, a week of MAP testing, a week of MCAS science testing, and then final exams spread out over two weeks.  That’s a lot of testing at a time when students would rather be anywhere else.

Those who might think I am exaggerating the situation are welcome to join my students for six weeks of testing.

It’s long past time that we put the needs of the students ahead of the convenience of the adults.  Starting the school year in August – with proper air conditioning – would greatly improve teaching and learning.

Michael J. Maguire teaches Latin and Ancient Greek at Boston Latin Academy, serves on the Executive Board of the Boston Teachers Union, and also works summer school.  The ideas expressed here are his own.



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