Sea to Sky schools to get extended Spring Break 

Some parents concerned by School District decision

Children will likely whoop with joy at the thought of an extended spring break but for many parents in Whistler the idea is less than welcome.

"I'm opposed, said Melissa Deally, co-chair of the Spring Creek Community School Parent Advisory Council (PAC).

"I struggle with it because we are a resort community and that is one of the busiest times of the year for many of the working parents and now we're extending the spring break.

"We also don't have the resources that are available in the city. We can't put our children in a fabulous five-day camp at Science World or an aquarium camp or daily programs... They can only ski so much, they already ski a lot."

The Sea to Sky School District (48) approved the extended spring break as part of a new 2011/12 and 2012/13 calendar for all district schools. They based their decision on a March, 2010 survey that queried parents about start up dates and their preferred length of spring break. According to SD48 documents signed by board chair Rick Price, the survey results were evenly divided with a slight preference given to the extended spring break. The SD48 board approved the two-year change at a meeting on December 8, 2010. In addition to the extra week at spring break, schools cannot open before Labour Day to make up the time and must meet Ministry of Education requirements for instruction within an educational program by adjusting the school day.

Having a two-week spring break has long been discussed within the district, which has one of the highest absentee rates in the province. This is driven by parents taking students out of school during the year to vacation, as they can't leave the resort when everyone else is vacationing here.

"The proposed calendar with a two-week Spring Break and a week earlier start, balances the days of instruction in first and second semester, which is an important consideration for provincial exam courses at the secondary level," said Magy Odorfer, district principal for SD48. "The opportunity to have an extended vacation in March appears to reduce absenteeism of both employees and students. Research on altered school calendars shows that improvements in staff and student wellness occur by shortening duration blocks of instructional time and lengthening vacation breaks throughout the year."

It is now up to individual schools to decide on how the lost educational time is made up. Options include adding eight instructional minutes to each elementary school day and nine minutes to secondary school days, or finding a block of days elsewhere in the year. Many parents are concerned that the additional minutes don't equal valuable educational time.

"I am not for having an extra week off in exchange for minutes added onto the end of the day because I don't believe that a few minutes added here and there equal five days worth of schooling," said Nancy MacConnachie, a parent with kids at Myrtle Philip Elementary school.

"If you compare our calendar to the one put out by the Ministry of Education, our instructional days are 10 below what the minimum should be as stated by their website... I don't see how our children are going to benefit from this. I'm under the impression that it's all about what benefits the children rather than staff and the board of education and the budget."

Under the School Act schools must have a certain amount of instruction per school year. It is up to each school district how this is implemented. In Sea to Sky instruction is measured in minutes. All the schools in the district meet or exceed those minutes.

However, there is a debate around taking away days of instruction and replacing them with added minutes.

According to experts, whether or not students benefit from minutes added to each school day depends entirely on the individual. Older children are more able than younger students to handle a longer school day and how teachers design instruction is critical to keeping students on task.

"Unfortunately, there is no simple answer because it has everything to do with the age and developmental level of the kids," said Gary Rupert, program coordinator at the teacher education office at University of B.C.'s Faculty of Education.

"It has not just to do with age but with developmental level. One kid who is six years old can be quite developed and another kid who is six-years old can be less developed for a million reasons - it'll be okay for one of them and not so good for the other one."

Issues surrounding the 2011/12 calendar year will be discussed at a Spring Creek PAC meeting on Thursday, March 17 at 8:45 p.m. at the school.

The Myrtle Philip PAC will meet with parents to discuss the matter on March 15 at 7 p.m. at the school.



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