Shorter summer causes 'squeeze'
By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer
By Beverly Creamer
The "short-summer squeeze" is on.
The state's 258 regular public schools are preparing to begin their first unified calendar in more than a decade, and that means just seven weeks between the official end of school on June 8 and the start of the new year on July 27.
And that's the way it's going to be from now on — a shorter summer, a week's break in October, and longer breaks at Christmas and in spring — for Hawai'i's approximately 182,000 public school students from grades K-12.
The unification is supposed to help the state Department of Education save money on things such as bus and meal services, make it easier to schedule teacher training, help students retain what they've learned and offer continuity to parents who have children on different schedules.
But it also means that everybody from teachers, students and parents to afterschool program providers must adjust. As summer nears:
"It's kind of overwhelming," said Waipahu High School junior Veralyn Ulep. She is struggling to figure out how she'll work to earn money for college and senior year expenses, spend time with friends and still fit in extracurricular commitments such as her preparations as incoming president of her school's Leo club.
"I want to spend time with my friends our last summer while we're all still here, but I also want to get a job and save money for college, and do all my summer meetings," said Ulep, 16. "I think the short summer is going to make me feel like I'm still going to school."
But some, like 17-year-old Nadia K. Paramanantham, are in the catbird seat.
In planning ahead for this summer crunch, Waipahu High offered afterschool courses for those who wanted to pick up credits, get extra help or surge ahead, so she's been getting a required math class out of the way this semester. And that leaves her summer open for a college-level Web design class.
"I'm very lucky," she said. "I worked (on math) after school so I don't have to spend summer doing study, study, study. If you go to school (all year), it feels like no life."
About 100 schools currently operate on a traditional nine-month calendar, while more than 170 others follow a year-round schedule or a modified one similar to the new schedule.
At Kalihi Elementary, which has been on the year-round calendar for several years, the experience has been gratifying.
Principal Natalie Mun-Taketa said the shorter summer break helps keep students from forgetting their lessons.
"The longer the breaks, the less the retention," she said.
The new breaks between quarters also offer time for innovations such as Reading Camp that brings students back to school for intensified programs that are also fun. "We try and be innovative with the intersessions," said Mun-Taketa. "And we have advanced tutoring to prep for the State Assessment exam."
Windward mother Lisa Gima is also relieved. With three children on different schedules over the past few years, it meant posting a master calendar on the fridge every month just to cope with the confusion.
"I'd write down who was off when," said Gima, "to make sure we were always covered.
"Just arranging for childcare was constant," she added. "It was a nightmare."
PROGRAMS FILLING FAST
Parent Cindy Sullivan, a teacher at Jarrett Middle school, is finding the new schedule better, too. With a son in high school and twins in the fourth grade who needed childcare at break times, life was hectic. And costly.
"I think the YMCA was $350 a week for both the twins," said Sullivan, who had to scramble to find a program for the vacation weeks in October and at Christmas when the younger ones were off from Haha'ione Elementary School, which had already gone to a year-round schedule.
"When you add that up over a year, it gets expensive."
While parents are relieved, they still face some uncertainty.
At Kama'aina Kids, one of the state's largest providers of afterschool and summer programs, the phone is ringing off the hook with calls about how programs are being affected. The staff has been calling this the "short-summer squeeze."
"There's a sense of urgency we're feeling from the parents," said president Ray Sanborn. "In the summer, we try to accommodate everyone we can, but we do fill up."
FEWER SUMMER CLASSES
Even though he doesn't expect extra children this summer, Sanborn said programs will be shorter, not as extensive, and not at as many sites, even though they'll expand during the other breaks.
"It's a little harder for us to do all the things we used to do," Sanborn said. "We used to have 10 weeks of summer and we're now down to six or seven."
But during the fall break, from Oct. 2 to 6, Sanborn expects the number of students needing programs to double, to 2,000.
"We've seen a lot of schools change their schedule, and in the first intersession the parents work it out. One will take three days off, and the other, two," he said. "But the following year the majority of kids will be in our program because the parents realize, 'We can't do this in spring and winter, too. We don't have that many days off.' "
The same urgency is occurring in the Department of Education's summer school office. Coordinator Puanani Wilhelm said fewer schools are planning to operate a summer school.
Last year, 78 schools provided classes for 18,000 students. But there are just 49 summer school sites this year, and Wilhelm suggested parents apply early to ensure their children get slots.
"One of the issues is just the difficulty in securing teachers who will give up their very short summer vacation," said Wilhelm. "And some schools can't have summer school because much of their campus won't be available (due to scheduled repairs)."
Wilhelm said that because summer school is squeezed into fewer weeks, each day will be longer. For instance, secondary students will be in class six hours a day instead of four.
In the Windward district, only Kahuku High will offer summer school, compared with having several high schools in the past.
However, education officials are looking at innovative ways to teach the material that would have been covered in summer school — starting on weekends before this school year has ended, providing extra afterschool help all year to struggling students, or building programs around the new, longer breaks.
Some schools in the past year have used the afterschool time to schedule classes that traditionally would have been offered in the summer.
Principal Pat Pedersen at Waipahu High was ahead of the curve, creating a network of afterschool makeup classes all year in such critical subjects as general math, Algebra I and English for students who would have had to take summer school.
"Knowing we were transitioning, we started it this school year," said Pedersen.
Freeman Cheung, the school's coordinator of funding programs for low-income students, has been teaching some of the math classes. He said one option to replace summer school is afterschool classes using an Internet math-teaching tool called Plato.
"The kids have had a chance to make up credits on their own time," said Cheung. "So even without summer school, we want to give opportunities for students to make the credits up."
Other schools are looking at starting summer school earlier than usual so the days aren't longer for students.
"I got a call from principal Dennis Hokama (from Roosevelt High School) who wanted to begin offering summer school in May," said Wilhelm. "He was concerned about meeting his students' needs."
Reach Beverly Creamer at email@example.com.