YISD, EPISD educators, students detail calendar impacts throughout the year
After transitioning to an annual school calendar in 2020, teachers, administrators and students in El Paso are noticing the impacts of the change.
In the annual calendar, the traditional three-month summer break is replaced by two intersessional periods, one in the fall and one in the spring, in addition to the regular Thanksgiving and winter breaks. School begins in late July-early August and ends in early June, so the intersessions fall between two nine-week terms.
Each intersession lasts one week, followed by an additional one-week district closure, giving students a two-week break from instruction. Their influence on burnout has been among the most notable impacts, said Alexandra Fatien, a teacher at Parkland Elementary.
“One of the biggest benefits so far has been its impact on student learning and mental health, not just for students but also for teachers,” Fatien said. “Having these breaks boosts that enthusiasm for learning, and students have better mental health to learn.”
Sylvia Gonzalez, a pre-kindergarten teacher at MacArthur PK-8 School, agrees.
“I think it’s awesome,” Gonzalez said of the annual schedule. “It’s as beneficial for teachers as it is for students. Students come back from intersession rejuvenated and ready to ride.”
Some students echo Gonzalez’s sentiment.
“Once (students) start to tire, they think, ‘Oh, I’ve got this intersession,'” Eastwood Junior and Student Council Vice President Sienna De La Fuente said. “I feel like it’s easier for students to get through October and those breaks because they know they’re going to get a chance to rest.”
De La Fuente also noticed a positive impact on school pride as a result of the transition to year-round education. With a smaller gap between each school year, students are more excited to resume school activities, she said, such as soccer games, costume weeks and other events.
Meanwhile, the students at Hanks High School have mixed feelings about the change. With extra breaks comes extra practices, said junior Joi Suarez, student council treasurer and member of the dance team. Some activities require two practices per day during the intersession periods, which reduces the relaxation time during the class break.
Suarez was also due to train during YISD’s eight-week summer break, during which she also worked in the family business, making the school break seem like hardly a break. Finding the time and energy to see friends outside of school has almost become more difficult, Suarez said, due to feeling “so overwhelmed, physically and mentally.”
Harder for students to get summer jobs
For other students, the annual schedule has made it nearly impossible to hold a summer job. As a member of the Hanks High School band, senior Isabella Rosales didn’t have time for a summer job due to the practices required almost every day of the summer. Senior student council president Astrid Rojas hoped to use a summer job to save for college and a car, but employers were unwilling to hire her because she could only be available for six to eight weeks.
An additional challenge for Rojas has been the inconsistency between the annual schedule and the dual-credit schedule. The latter does not include intersessions, leaving Rojas with homework to complete for dual credit courses when she is supposed to have free time.
“Even during the break, (students) were still stressed,” Rojas said.
Still, Rosales hopes that as students and teachers continue to adapt, year-round education will be a positive change for students. The key, she says, is for teachers and coaches to understand that break times are students’ break times.
Reduces school regression
From an administrator’s perspective, a shorter summer break reduces the severity of academic regression between school years, according to Angela Reyna, principal of Parkland Pre-Engineering Middle School.
“With children, waiting three months to meet (students’) academic needs is like a lifetime in the mind of a child,” Reyna said.
As students begin a new school year, lessons from the previous year are now fresher in their minds than they would be on a traditional calendar. Less revision time is needed to catch students up to the appropriate grade level.
For students who could benefit from extra help, many schools around El Paso also offer elective instruction during the intersessional periods. During this time, students can receive instruction more tailored to their specific and individual needs to help them not fall behind or catch up in areas where they have struggled.
This structure has been particularly critical in dealing with the drastic academic regression that has been seen during the pandemic, Reyna said.
“The ‘summer slide’ we had before COVID, where kids would normally regress a bit once they were on summer vacation, was amplified by the regression that came with COVID,” Reyna said. “By sticking to the schedule year-round, giving students the opportunity in the fall, October, and spring, March, to receive a small-group intervention is really critical.”
Also, in Reyna’s experience, criticism of shorter summers by teachers has been minimal since many teachers are usually involved in school programs or training throughout the summer anyway.
“(Teachers) take time to relax and recharge,” Reyna said. “But then, it’s like a teacher’s DNA. They want to go back to school. They want to get back the passion that they have.”
The 2022-23 school year is now the third year that both EPISD and YISD are on schedule throughout the year. While it may still be too early to observe the longer-term effects of the change, such as performance on standardized tests, school observations so far have made teachers and administrators optimistic about the coming.