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Modified school year looks promising to parents

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Parents here are thinking of cancelling spring break.

And they might not stop there. There are even rumours of doing away with Christmas holidays.

"The main thing for parents in Whistler is we can’t be off anytime when someone else is off," said Myrtle Philip elementary school Parent Advisory Council chair Kris Shoup.

"The current school schedule is not a good thing for Whistler to be on," she said.

"Parents are constantly pulling their children out of school to go and take a holiday with them because it is the only time they can go."

But thanks to the Liberal government’s on-going educational reform parents may soon be able to re-organize the school year to fit better with community needs.

A new provincial law means that classes can be held all-year-round. So schools and district boards can adopt school calendars which vary from the traditional September to June schedule.

In Whistler’s case that may mean moving school holidays to times of the year when the resort is less busy.

One possible option, which was looked at several years ago at Myrtle Philip, would be to hold classes for three months and have one month off.

"And when that one month off would be is kind of obvious," said Shoup. "It would be in all our down times.

"That would work for all these people trying to look after all these tourists who come on the normal schedule."

Shoup also believes this schedule would improve student learning as the long summer hiatus would disappear, a holiday which has its roots in taking kids out of school so they could help bring in the harvest.

"Well, we certainly don’t do that anymore," said Shoup who has three kids, ages 15, 13 and 12.

"And any parent knows how difficult it is to work with your own children. To try and keep them up with their school work over that two month hiatus... is really almost impossible."

The educational effect of the long summer off is one reason Mission elementary school is thinking of adopting a modified calendar year. The local school board gave approval in principle to the plan in January.

Studies have shown that students, especially those from low-income families, do better when their schooling isn’t interrupted by the summer holidays.

And teachers benefit too, says research, which has found educators are more focused when the school year is broken up.

Mission elementary is considering holding classes September to November, January to March and May to July, and closing for December, April, and August.

Myrtle Philip parent and PAC treasurer Gary Pringle would even welcome moving spring break one week later or earlier.

This week his wife and kids are out of town for spring break but he has to remain in the resort and continue his work as comptroller for the Holiday Inn.

"I’ve talked to other parents and they seem enthusiastic too," said Pringle, who brought up the idea at a recent PAC meeting.

He added that it is not just the fact that you can’t holiday when everyone else does which annoys locals. It’s also the costly childcare which has to be arranged over holiday periods by working parents.

If a new school year were arranged its likely all the schools in Whistler would have to agree to it.

And it is not just the parents who would have to back the idea. So would teachers, administrators, school staff, and the school board.

"It’s definitely an interesting idea," said Howe Sound Teachers’ Association president Marjorie Reimer, who agreed there are merits to the idea educationally.

But high housing costs in Whistler may put a wrinkle in the plan.

"Many of our teachers are parents as well," said Reimer.

"And many of our teachers don’t live in Whistler because they are unable to afford to... so just like a Whistler parent whose kids are off when they are working now we are looking at the Whistler teacher who is off while their kids are at school in another community."

Reimer said school facilities would also have to be looked at to make sure that classrooms aren’t too hot in the summer months and there is enough time off to maintain regular maintenance, like painting, to the schools.

But to many parents the idea is attractive.

Said Maureen Richmond, PAC chairwoman for Whistler Secondary: "It sounds like it would be a really good thing."

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