GUEST POST FROM DR. ERICH LONGIE, 7 GENERATION GAMES LEAD CULTURAL CONSULTANT:
As a long time educator on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation, I’ve had many discussions with other educators in our school system regarding how to raise the average yearly performance (AYP) scores of our students. Unfortunately, due to several factors, our AYP scores are always near the bottom.
During these discussions, many of the educators I spoke with saw value in the idea of a year-round school schedule but also saw it as unrealistic. These teachers couldn’t imagine — and neither could I — that the top-level administrators who would be responsible for making such a radical change would ever make the decision to go to a year-round schedule. These high-ranking individuals within our educational system would simply not approve of it.
Why? I don’t know. Maybe it is because Indian education and the individuals who are involved in the system are always under heavy scrutiny. Hardly, a year goes by without some “revelation” on just how horrible Indian education is. When you work under that heightened level of scrutiny, it’s scary to do something new and innovative. That’s a shame because I think year-round school on our reservation will be immensely beneficially to our children.
With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at a few pros and cons surrounding existing year-round schools and apply them to our reservation schools.
Pros of year-round school:
There is nothing for our children to do on our reservation during the summer. Rather than being unproductive for three months and forgetting everything they learned school during the summer, having school in the summer months would give these children something to do: learn. Can’t beat that.
Students who are at risk to dropping out (for various reasons) tend not to return to school in the fall. Many students that do return to school after summer break only do so because they are not old enough to drop out. Year-round schools would have the potential to keep more of these at-risk students in school. With the structure that would accompany a year-round schedule, behavior problems would also decrease.
Most educators will agree that children learn best when instruction is continuous. Research shows that low-income students also lose more than two months in reading and math achievement. The majority of our students come from low-income homes. Year-round school could break this cycle of summer learning loss and of our students always being behind other students in all content areas. Year-round instruction would lead to a rise in our AYP scores.
Finally, unlike back when I was young, many of our students love school, even the students who don’t do well. Kids may dislike classwork and learning activities, but they love the school environment, the teachers are nice, they can play games, they have access to computers, and so on. Year-round school can take this continuous exposure and use it an opportunity for learning.
Cons of year-round school:
Opponents will argue that there are many cons for schools a year-round schedule, but they really don’t apply to our reservation — at least as far as student learning is concerned. Some people contend that changing the current school breaks to a year-round schedule with different breaks could force parents to rearrange their childcare schedules and make different arragements. There will be working parents who will have scheduling issues that may result in babysitting problem, but that would be a one-time adjustment and most of people on my reservation have extended families that live close. While that may be a larger issue off the reservation, I don’t see it being a major problem within our school community.
In fact, if it was up to me, I would implement a year-round school schedule on our reservation school immediately. Our test scores would go up, our dropout rates would go down, and student behavior would improve.
Dr. Longie is the team leader for 7 Generation Games’ Native culture-related content. A member of the Spirit Lake Dakota, Dr. Longie is the tribe’s historic preservation officer. Dr. Longie has a doctorate in education and is a longtime educator with extensive experience and expertise working with Indian students.