Early school opening angers 4-H supporters Classes will start during state fair

January 17, 1993|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

It's an affront to Harford's rural heritage, making county children choose between the first week of school and the Maryland State Fair, local 4-H members and their supporters argue.

County 4-H members will have to decide between school and the farm-related events and competitions for the first time, because of an earlier start for the 1993-94 school year.

The school year will start Aug. 30 and end June 9, the school board decided Monday, to the chagrin of 4-H members, upset that school will conflict with the fair, which will run Aug. 28 to Sept. 4.

"This shows a lack of support for the traditional values that we hold near and dear in Harford County," said Judy Merritt, a Harford County extension agent.

Speaking Monday at the school board's meeting, she said about 600 students and 400 adult volunteers are involved in 4-H, and most participate in the Maryland State Fair.

el,.5l Student 4-H members exhibit animals, participate in demonstrations, judge events and sell their prize-winning beef, swine or sheep.

B.J. Waltimyer, a fifth-grader at Jarrettsville Elementary, said he can't be in school during the fair because he has to take care of the 10 dairy cows he exhibits.

"This is very important to me," he said.

The board voted, 6-2, to approve the calendar change, with president Anne D. Sterling and Ronald R. Eaton, dissenting. Last year, 4-H groups' opposition sunk a similar proposal.

Ray R. Keech, the school superintendent, said the change was necessary to end the school year as close as possible to Memorial Day.

He said delaying the start of school until after Labor Day, Sept. 6, would require students to attend until June 15, and students become restless and difficult to teach after Memorial Day. Also, many schools lack air-conditioning and sometimes have to close early because of heat, he said.

"We are competing in a global economy where students go to school 220 days out of the year," he said. "We only have 180 days, and we have to make the most of them."

The superintendent's explanation failed to appease the 35 or so 4-H supporters in the audience.

"I was raised in Harford County, and I can't imagine ever starting school before Labor Day," said Charles E. Daughton, a teacher and a 4-H volunteer.

"4-H teaches responsibility and pride; it is just as valuable as band or sports," Mr. Daughton said.

Mr. Keech said 4-H students would not be penalized for attending the state fair but would have to make up missed work.

Tom Gibson, principal at North Harford High, said, "We can work with this. Participation in the state fair is not a school-based experience, but it is educational."

North Harford is the only regular high school that still has an agricultural program, Mr. Gibson said.

This school year, only four of 24 state school systems opened after Labor Day -- Baltimore, Harford, Wicomico and Worcester, the Maryland State Department of Education said. Most school systems opened Aug. 31.

Betty Bures, the 4-H program coordinator at the University of Maryland's Cooperative Extension Service, said fair officials have tried to work with students. She said events are scheduled in the afternoon and evening whenever possible so students can attend school in the morning.

Max Mosner, vice president and general manager for the Maryland State Fair, said most school systems allow students time off and give them a chance to make up missed homework.

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