Increasingly around the state and country, the first day of school is getting earlier with some districts starting the first week of August. Research supports earlier start dates, saying it increases student retention by giving them less time over the summer to forget important information. Outside of the education community though, seasonal businesses feel the effects of the absence of free time for students during traditional summer months.
It’s not year-round school, it’s a balanced calendar
The shorter summer is because of the balanced calendar some school districts are trying. Instead of summer being about two and a half months long, the days off are spread throughout the school year. This usually means summer break is only a month and a half, but Christmas, Thanksgiving and Spring break are significantly longer.
School districts are not adopting this calendar to take summer away from kids or punish seasonal businesses; many say it’s the best thing for students.
Steve Phillips is the superintendent of Mitchell Community Schools near Bedford and says his district switched to the balanced calendar two years ago.
“I heard consistently that once students get back from a long summer, they had to take a week, two weeks, three weeks just to catch them back up to the level that they were when they left so I think there’s some merit to that concept,” Phillips says.
And since they’ve tried balancing the schedule between classroom instruction and days off, Phillips says teachers in Mitchell are not playing catch up each fall.
With Shorter Summers, Seasonal Businesses Lose Revenue
Even though it’s a hot, humid day in mid-August, the rides and water slides at Holiday World Theme Park and Splashin’ Safari Water Park in Southern Indiana aren’t operating. Instead, construction crews are working on a large project.
“We are really excited to be building our first major steel roller coaster for next year, the Thunderbird,” says Eric Snow, Vice President for Marketing at Holiday World. “It’s a huge attraction, and we’ve been able to do so because of the successes we’ve had.”
But despite this success he mentions, Snow is concerned that it’s mid-August and the park isn’t operating.
“With schools going back to session so early, the summer season is really getting shorter and we’re having to respond to it,” Snow says.Holiday World is revamping its business strategy to focus more on its fall and weekend offerings such as its Happy Halloween Weekends and the upcoming Rock the World Christian music festival. But other, smaller businesses just don’t have that flexibility.
Just a few minutes away from Phillips’ office in Mitchell is the Holiday Drive-In, a locally owned
drive in movie theater that only operates in the summer.
Owner Steve Wilson says when Mitchell Community Schools starting going back the first week of August he saw his crowds dwindle on Sunday nights. Parents were getting their kids in bed for school the next day – not going to the drive-in. Wilson couldn’t afford to open on Sundays anymore.
“Oh yes, it’s probably cost us $10,000 a year here at this drive in, which is probably 15% of our gross,” Wilson says.
And Wilson says he can’t make up the lost business at other points of the year when kids are out of school again.
“You know I’ve had people say ‘well you need to adapt’ but there’s not much of a way to adapt,” Wilson says. “Our business runs in the summer, when you take a month of summer away and throw it in the middle of winter I can’t open in the fall or early in the winter to run the theater, it’s not cost effective to do that.”
Students Will Always Come First
Phillips says the success of Mitchell’s students will always come first, and local businesses should realize with 180 days of classroom time mandated by the state, the summer will always seem too short.
“You’re either going to lose them at the beginning or at the end. But the only way you can get these days in you have to start either a little later and go into June or start earlier and get done May 21,” he says.
The Indiana Department of Education does not track how many districts use the balanced calendar, but it is increasing throughout the state.