Fatigued students, staff make up their snow days

May 23, 1994|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writers Anne Haddad and Lan Nguyen contributed to this article.

Teachers are exhausted. Students are bushed. Parents are even more worn out than usual.

A new strain of spring fever is afflicting nearly everyone associated with schools in Baltimore, Carroll and Howard counties. Those are the districts that decided that a few minutes a day in April and May were better than a few days in June for making up class time lost to ice and snow this winter.

But those few minutes add up to a lot of fatigue.

"The only thing we see now -- and it's a cumulative effect -- is the kids are tired, and the teachers are tired," said Dorothy Mangle, elementary education director in Carroll County.

"Everybody's tired," agreed Catonsville High School music teacher Jim Wharton.

Baltimore County schools are starting classes 30 minutes earlier TC than normal and ending 15 minutes later for 40 days that will end June 1, to make up the last five days of classes forfeited to the weather.

Carroll students put in an extra 50 minutes a day for 42 days that ended Thursday, and Howard schools added 30 minutes a day for four weeks that ended April 29.

Despite a dismal winter that closed schools for far more days than anticipated, the state Board of Education has been adamant that students and teachers put in their time.

Although schools won't necessarily be in session for the prescribed 180 days, they will have the required number of classroom hours: 1,080 for elementary students and 1,170 for students in middle and high schools.

After using the slack in their original calendars, Baltimore, Carroll and Howard school officials still were faced with a choice of extending the school year into the hottest days of June or extending the school day.

They chose a longer day, and the educational reviews are mixed.

"Ninety-nine percent say it's a disaster," said Ray Suarez, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County. "Everyone is exhausted. They have really lost more than they have gained," he said.

"I think any time we lengthen the school day is great for instruction," said Cathi Hill Morrison, PTA president at Waterloo Elementary School in Columbia. "They had a sense they were accomplishing a lot more," she said.

"Is it good for kids? Is it good for teachers? No," said Grant Soukup, a science teacher at Loch Raven Middle School in Towson who has two youngsters of his own in elementary school.

"We're meeting the needs of people who don't have to be in the classroom with kids," he said of state officials' insistence on putting in the time. "I look at it as punishment" for teachers and children.

Elementary more happy

On the whole, elementary school teachers and students are more positive about the longer day, largely because elementary schools start later in the morning, their teachers and principals have more control over how the classroom day is organized, and the children are more enthusiastic about school.

In middle and high schools, where the day is governed by a strict schedule and students have many after-school jobs and activities, the longer hours are less popular. Some students are catching buses as early as 5:30 a.m.

Mr. Soukup said that with his seventh-graders' attention spans, "in a 50-minute period, you probably have 20 minutes of teaching time." The slightly longer periods don't do much good, he said, although he has tried to add meaningful activities, such as vocabulary drills, to his classes.

As a parent of two elementary school youngsters, Mr. Soukup sees another side, too. "They are more tired," he said of his children. "They are hungrier, so I have to give them a bigger snack, which means I have to push back dinner, which pushes back bed.

But Isabella Litchka, a fifth-grade teacher at Spring Garden Elementary in Hampstead, has a different view of the extra time. "I don't know whether the kids would agree, but I know that more learning has taken place. I think the day should be this long all year -- we can't get in everything we need to get in," she said. But she conceded that "this is not going to be a popular position."

Two boys in the office of Hillcrest Elementary School in Catonsville said they weren't even sure what time school started now. "No," they said, this was no big deal.

Down the road at Catonsville High, however, a dozen students seated around a table in the cafeteria were unrelenting in their criticism of the new schedule.

"It's a huge struggle to stay awake," said junior Matt O'Connell.

"It makes the day twice as long," said senior Chris Sadowsky.

"You look at the clock constantly," chimed in junior Keri Jacobs. This isn't new; they just have longer to watch the clock.

Catonsville, which had a seven-period day with 50-minute classes, is trying a four-period day this year, with each class lasting 82 minutes. The extended day lengthens these classes to 93 minutes, with the first starting at 7:15 a.m. -- which is too long and too early, most students interviewed said.

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