While almost every child and teacher in West Virginia is on summer break, students and teachers at Piedmont Elementary, in Charleston, went back to school on Wednesday.
Piedmont Elementary operates on a year-round school schedule — and is the last public school in West Virginia to do so.
“I feel that it is important for our community,” Aditi Kuhlman, a fourth-grade teacher at Piedmont, said Wednesday. “It’s been embedded within the community for over 25 years now, this year-round school schedule that Piedmont has.”
Many Piedmont teachers support the year-round schedule saying it benefits students by preventing summer learning loss, making it easier for them to remember routines and rules, and making sure they are taken care of all year.
“We go to school for nine weeks and then we have three weeks off, so that way the kids aren’t away from us for too long to forget routines, rules, [and] things they’ve learned,” Rachel Mitchell, a Title 1 reading teacher at Piedmont, said. “They get breakfast and lunch here. There’s a great after-school program where they get dinner [and] things like that, so it helps make sure everybody’s fed and taken care of all year long.”
“I think it’s very beneficial for the students because we don’t have that learning gap [or] that learning loss over the summer, which many students will experience, especially students that are coming from these backgrounds,” Kuhlman said.
Students are off for three-week increments in September, December, March and June.
“It’s very nice for all of us because we always have a chance to refresh our energy and come back strong for the new semester,” Kuhlman said.
Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary, which was the only other year-round school in West Virginia, is changing to a traditional school calendar in the upcoming school year.
According to the Congressional Research Service, in a 2014 brief, the research on the extent to which year-round schools affect student achievement has generally been found to be inconclusive.
“There is a general consensus that [year-round school] has no effect or a small positive effect on student performance, [and] the methodology of many studies had left copious room for more rigorous verification,” Amery D. Wu, associate professor at the University of British Columbia, and Jake E. Stone, faculty member at Simon Fraser University, concluded in a research study of whether year-round schools in California had an effect on the outcome and growth of schools’ Academic Performance Index scores.
There’s been a growth in the number of year-round schools from the mid-1980s to 2000, with 410 year-round public schools serving about 350,000 students in 1985 and 3,059 year-round public schools serving almost 2.2 million students in 45 states in 2000.
During the 2011-2012 school year, 3,700 public schools across the nation were operating on a year-round calendar cycle, according to the CRS.
Some arguments in favor of year-round schooling, according to the CRS, are that year-round schools can prevent the loss of learning over the summer, create opportunities to provide remediation and enrichment activities to students during the school year, and can help to prevent staff burnout by providing more frequent breaks.
According to the CRS, some arguments against year-round schooling are that families may find it difficult to have their children on different schedules if year-round schooling is not offered district-wide; there may be complications related to student participation in extracurricular activities over breaks; and it may be difficult to conduct large maintenance projects, which could lead to doing routine maintenance at night or on the weekends.
“Sometimes it’s a little hard when everyone else is on break and things aren’t being worked on, or they’re being fixed over the summer because they think everyone’s off and we’re not, but it really helps the kids out to be taken care of all the time,” Mitchell said.
Despite the lack of year-round schools in West Virginia and the arguments against it, teachers at Piedmont remain supportive of the calendar they’ve had for decades.
“I think a balanced school year just makes the most sense,” Kuhlman said. “It’s the most progressive type of schedule that could be offered and I wish, and I think, that more schools could probably benefit from this type of schedule, as well.”