Coleman's cool summer

July 06, 1995

Year-round schooling has enough champions, critics and researchers to fuel the necessary debate about its educational benefits. But the key to its success will be its political benefits and the willingness of officials to adopt a flexible approach. As Mike Bowler reported earlier this week, Baltimore City's Robert W. Coleman Elementary School -- the state's only year-round public school -- has enthusiastically embraced the experiment.

Part-way through the first year of the experiment, students did not show marked improvement on state performance tests, so it is too early for a definitive judgment on its academic effectiveness at Coleman. But there are other ways to measure success, and on those counts this experimental program richly deserves to be continued.

School in the summer, together with school-based activities designed for the "intercessions," have given Coleman's youngsters a new focus for the hot, humid days of a typical city summer. It's important, of course, that Coleman is one of about half of city schools that are air conditioned -- a luxury many of these children don't have at home.

For children who have no summer camp or other enrichment activities to look forward to, school provides a welcome relief from stifling streets and rowhouses or simply from boredom and the mischief it can produce. Addie Johnson, Coleman's energetic principal, has a far-sighted vision for her school, one that stresses the institution's potential to be a full-year partner to students and parents alike. She has drawn in a variety of resources, including parents, to offer special activities and programs during intercessions between the four 45-day sessions, making school a place children and their families want to spend time. Sooner or later, their positive attitudes will inevitably produce beneficial results, whether academically or socially.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening wisely does not share his predecessor's enthusiasm for year-round schools as a way to save money on construction. But financial incentives should not be the basis for such experiments. As the Coleman program shows, there are many other reasons to consider year-round schooling -- not for everyone, but for schools like Coleman where the program offers an appealing alternative to idleness. We hope the governor will take a look at the compelling reasons for supporting Coleman's year-round experiment and help keep this worthy program afloat.

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