HUNT COLUMN: Endless summer? Labor Day coming up

Published 11:30 am Wednesday, September 1, 2021

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By Cathy Hunt
Troup County Board Chair

So we’ve turned the page on August and are heading into Labor Day weekend. Many years ago that meant school was about to start. Nowadays, it means that kids have been back in school for a few weeks already, and Labor Day is the first “break” of the year, a long weekend that we’re more than ready for.

Someone gave me a framed cross-stitch when I graduated from college that said, “Three great reasons to become a teacher: June, July, and August!” But that was when summer was indeed a full three months. As a child, that stretch from Memorial Day through Labor Day seemed to last forever. Long summer days were filled with riding far and wide on my banana seat bike, catching lightning bugs, hopscotch and jump rope with girlfriends, Kick the Can with all the kids on the street, board games or bead stringing in someone’ basement when it rained, exploring the woods behind our house, running through the sprinkler, and occasional trips to a swimming pool. We stayed outside as long as daylight allowed, until we heard our parents calling us in.

Young people today, at least around here, have never had those ninety plus days of summer vacation. How did we do it then and still have all the required school days? By not having nearly the holiday time in the school year we’ve gradually become accustomed to. When I started teaching, Thanksgiving break was still Thursday and Friday only. Then Wednesday became part of the package, and before we knew it, taking the whole week off for Thanksgiving seemed appropriate.

There was no Fall Break, no MLK holiday or President’s Day, and only a couple of teacher work days. Spring Break meant the Friday and Monday bookends of Easter weekend, not a whole week for trips to the beach. If we had snow days, we might find ourselves making them up in early June.

Moving from the quarter system to the semester system also had an effect on when the school year should begin. A couple of decades ago, we started in late August instead of early August, and the semester ended midway into January. Eventually, we realized that wasn’t a good way to close a semester: coming back after a long Christmas break and then using a few days to review all the learning that got hazy over the holidays so students could pass their semester exams. It made much better sense to finish the semester in December and start a new one upon returning to school in January. So, the first day of school had to be earlier, since we still wanted our Fall Break and week at Thanksgiving!

Although there may be a nostalgia for those endless summers of yesteryear, I’ll admit that the semester structure and all the lovely breaks in the school calendar are good for everyone. And two months off instead of three is better for fighting the summer slide that often plagues student progress.

The agricultural economy that drove the original idea of summer break no longer drives the school calendar. Happy first holiday of the school year!