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In for the Summer

TIMES STAFF WRITER

While the majority of Orange County’s students started summer vacation this week, Thomas Jefferson fourth-grader Aracely Sigala headed back to the classroom Tuesday--along with thousands of other students attending year-round schools.

“I keep telling myself school is fun,” the giggly 9-year-old Anaheim girl said, adding that it can be hard to focus on school while her friends are hitting the beaches or Disneyland. Her solution: “When I come home and my friends ask me to play, I just do my homework real fast and then I can play.”

More Orange County school districts are turning to year-round schedules as the student population continues to skyrocket, outpacing construction of new school buildings. As a result, the traditional summer break is becoming a thing of the past.

Jefferson first-grader Julian Juarez bemoaned the fact that he’s spending the hot summer months sitting in a classroom instead of swimming with his friends at the local pool. His mother sympathized with him. A bit.

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“He’s really ready for summer now,” Anita Villanueva said of her son. “It can be hard, but he’ll get used to it.”

Countywide, there were 62 schools on year-round schedules this past academic year, up from 46 in 1993. That number will continue to swell starting next month when additional schools in Orange and Anaheim convert to year-round schedules.

The Anaheim City School District’s board members recently voted to convert the last six of its 22 elementary schools to year-round schedules to alleviate campus overcrowding. The move makes the district one of the few in the state to alter the school calendar for all its students, officials said.

Districts saturated with year-round schools are still rare, but the alternative school calendar is rapidly gaining popularity, especially with this year’s state initiative to limit primary-grade class sizes to 20 pupils per teacher, state officials said.

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“About 21% of our students are on year-round schedules and we expect to see more next year because of class-size reduction,” said Tom Payne, a state Department of Education consultant on year-round schools.

Traditional schedules are also nearing extinction in the Santa Ana Unified School District, where enrollment has been increasing by about 1,400 students a year since 1979, causing a severe space crunch, officials there said.

More than two-thirds of its elementary and middle school students now attend class year-round and virtually every new school opens on a year-round schedule, including its newest facility, Wallace Davis Elementary, which will begin welcoming schoolchildren in July.

“Summer break doesn’t have much meaning here,” said Mike Vail, facilities director at Santa Ana Unified.

Year-round programs reduce crowding by about 25% by staggering the start of the school year. Students in year-round classes take a monthlong break every three months of school, which also helps to free up additional seating while stretching the school year through the summer.

Are year-round schools more beneficial? That’s debatable. But a number of educators contend that children can better retain knowledge without the disruption of a long summer vacation.

“With shorter but more frequent breaks, I don’t have to spend as much time reviewing materials when they come back from vacation,” Jefferson fourth-grade teacher Sharon Wada said.

Some students being forced to convert to year-round calendars complain that they are being cheated of their summer breaks.

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But many year-round veterans said they have few complaints. The vacation days balance out, and there are actually advantages to yearlong schedules, they said.

“I get to take long trips in January, when everyone else has to go to school,” said Jefferson fourth-grader Beatriz Urena. “I don’t like the three-month-long summer vacations. I always ended up staying home and getting bored.”


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