Kids Unlimited to go year round
Kids Unlimited Academy is about to become a trailblazer of sorts and a lab rat, too, in the world of Oregon education as the Medford-based charter school is preparing to begin what is believed to be the state’s first year-round school year.
KUA’s 2021-22 school year will begin Wednesday, Aug. 4, about three weeks before the first day of school for Medford’s other public schools, which begin Monday, Aug. 23, and about a month before the school’s 2020-21 start date. KUA’s last day of school will be June 22.
Designed to break up the school year into more manageable chunks while increasing the number of instructional days, the calendar includes a full week off around Thanksgiving, a three-week winter break and a two-week spring break.
KUA’s first day of school for the 2020-21 academic year was Sept. 8, and its last day of school was June 10. It will have 185 instructional days, including two early-release days, in 2021-22, compared to 167 days last school year.
“I really credit our board of directors and our staff by really doing what is best for kids,” said Tom Cole, the school’s CEO and founder.
Cole said one of the main motivations behind the change was to reduce the impact of the “summer slide” — that is, the academic slippage students experience during the traditionally long summer break. It can take a month or more for students to get back to where they left off the previous school year, Cole said, and the new calendar is designed to help KUA students avoid most of that slide.
The current summer break, which is much shorter than last summer’s, will be 56 days. Next summer, if the first day of school is also the first Wednesday of August as expected, the summer break will be reduced to just 41 days.
“We felt like it was not only responsible, but imperative to do the right thing,” Cole said.
According to a study conducted earlier this year by the International Journal of Educational Research, second-grade students in the Netherlands experienced a 26% performance drop following a six-week summer break. Other studies have shown similar learning losses during the longer summer break in the United States.
Though the increase in school days will cost the school, Director of Academics Sunshine Price says the investment will be worth it. Price said she has worked as a teacher in a district in Phoenix, Arizona, that used a year-round school calendar and enjoyed the schedule. But mostly, she believes it’ll give KUA students the best chance to succeed.
“We always put kids at the forefront, and KUA is known as a school that innovates,” Price said. “We’re different than what a traditional public school offers. We are a public school but our families choose us … we have a relationship with them, they trust us. So at the bottom of this decision is it’s what’s best for kids. That’s who we are and that’s what we’re about, serving the needs of our students and our community.”
Price said stretching out the calendar was a subject first broached at the school two years ago. During those initial meetings with families, she said, they were very open to the idea. Then COVID-19 struck and those learning gaps already associated with the summer slide only widened.
“In spite of us developing the best online comprehensive distance learning program that we could create, it’s just not the same as being in a classroom with a teacher,” she said. “It’s just not. And so we know that there is some unfinished learning that kids had, and having additional time is going to help fill that gap.”
Price said that by reducing the summer slide, the new school year will increase the amount of new learning that takes place and reduce much of that month or more of instructional time that most schools have become accustomed to. Also, noting that 33% of KUA students are considered migrant students, Price said the school will be running camps during those extended breaks to help minimize the burden to parents.
As for KUA teachers, it will be a welcome change for most, Price said.
“Overall, our teachers have been very excited about the change,” she said. “That’s one of the other benefits of year-round school, that it really helps with teacher burnout. We’ve been focusing on the kids, and that’s what it’s about, but as a former teacher I will tell you it is really nice to have those breaks. Of course summer break is great, but when you’re able to spread them out it really helps with teachers feeling refreshed and feeling ready to teach.”
Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org.