Grants to finance work of year-round education

February 15, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Staff Writer

Six Maryland school systems -- including those in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel and Howard counties -- won state grants yesterday aimed at encouraging year-round schooling.

Baltimore will use its $90,000 to evaluate a year-round calendar that officials hope to launch in September at Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in West Baltimore.

The five counties will use their share of the grant money, $400,000 in all, to plan year-round programs that could begin in the 1995-96 school year.

All such plans, however, are contingent on the General Assembly enacting legislation that would permit the required 180-day school year to be spread over 12 months instead of the current 10. The first hearing on such a proposal is scheduled tomorrow afternoon before the Senate's Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee.

The legislation could be controversial, with parents and teachers alike complaining of the inconvenience and disruption of year-round schedules.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer yesterday encouraged officials from the jurisdictions that received grants to lobby lawmakers in favor of the legislation.

"Year-round school is inevitable, but it is also a culture shock," acknowledged Howard County school Superintendent Michael E. Hickey.

Mr. Schaefer and state school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said booming school enrollment statewide had forced the state to look for new ways to get more use out of existing school buildings in an effort to save on the expense of building new ones.

By putting students on a year-round schedule -- such as the one city officials plan at Coleman, in which students would attend classes for about nine weeks and then get three weeks off -- state officials say they believe they can increase the number of students assigned to a particular school by as much as one-third.

State school officials concede that additional teachers would be needed to staff such schools, but they say those teachers would have to be hired anyway to staff a new school if one had to be built.

Dr. Yale Stenzler, who heads the state school construction program, said a typical 600-pupil school costs the state and local governments about $5 million to build.

Year-round schooling may be a new idea for Maryland, but it is not a new idea elsewhere, Dr. Grasmick said. She said more than 2,000 public and private schools in 26 states offer classes on a year-round basis, serving about 1.4 million students.

Evidence from those experiences, she said, indicates that teachers benefit from the frequent breaks, which give them time to relax, travel, study or pursue recreational activities, which may reduce stress.

Because schools are not closed for three months a year, vandalism is reduced, she said. Teacher and student attendance also would improve, and students would not lose some of what they have learned during a lengthy summer vacation, she said.

Dr. Grasmick said school districts would have to work out coordinated schedules for parents who have two or more children in school at the same time, and conceded the idea "does require a period of adjustment."

But Mr. Schaefer was typically less patient:

"People can always find fault with something, that something is wrong," he said. "But I think they'll adapt without trouble at all."

Here are details of the other grants:

* Anne Arundel County: $96,000 to evaluate the impact of a year-round schedule on student achievement and school construction in the Fort Meade area, which has nine elementary schools, one middle school and one high school serving 6,773 students.

* Howard County: $31,000 to study the use of breaks known as "intercessions" as a way to provide remedial or enrichment programs for students.

* Allegany County: $11,000 to study intercessions to relieve overcrowding at South Penn Elementary School, a school built for 520 students but with a total enrollment of 609.

* Calvert County: $77,000 to evaluate the effects of a year-round schedule at Southern Middle School and its feeder elementary schools, a high-growth area that serves more than 3,000 students.

* Montgomery County: $98,000 to study the year-round schools as a way of providing time for alternative instruction that could improve student performance.

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