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Need a break? Longer vacation challenges some parents

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Sunny Stephenson, the mother of a 5-year-old son, loves the idea of an extended fall break and plans to take advantage of it.

Pam Schmelz, the mother of a 7-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son, said the break creates a hardship by forcing her and others like her to use day care.

The Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. will kick off its two-week fall break Monday under the new balanced calendar, which shortens summer vacation to eight weeks and extends to two weeks the breaks in the fall and around Christmas through the New Year’s holiday.

Corporation officials have said the modified calendar supports instruction by shortening summer vacation and introducing breaks through the year. Two-thirds of the 2,100 respondents to a 2011 online survey supported the switch, which the school board approved last year on a trial basis.

The bulk of information on balanced-calendar school schedules points to an academic advantage for children with shorter summer vacations, according to researchers at Duke and Johns Hopkins universities. The assumption is that a shorter summer break helps students retain knowledge from the end of the previous school year.

“It’s a little early yet to say whether it works,” said John Quick, superintendent of Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. “We’re committed for three years, and that gives us time to evaluate.”

Reaction to the new schedule has been varied.

Stephenson, whose son goes to kindergarten at Taylorsville Elementary School, said her family used to take a small vacation during fall break when it was just a couple of days long. But that schedule left little downtime.

She said the two-week fall break adds some breathing space to the schedule, allowing all ages to truly relax while they’re on a trip.

Shelli Carothers, whose 7- and 10-year-old children attend Rock Creek Elementary School, said her family will love having a longer fall break. She noted that summer can be hot and even dangerous, while fall is cooler and lends itself more to outdoor activities.

“It will be a nice time to just decide to go to the zoo and have the freedom to do it,” she said.

Megan Matthews, mother of a second- and fourth-grader at Rock Creek, has mixed feelings about the two-week fall break.

She acknowledges that the extra time gives families more freedom to take vacations during off-peak travel seasons when rates are a better value. On the other hand, Matthews doesn’t like the idea of a more condensed summer schedule.

“I’m getting used to it,” she said.

Schmelz, a balanced-calendar opponent, said her husband will take off from work the first week of the two-week break and will have to return to work the second week. Her own job as a teacher at Ivy Tech Community College provides some flexibility, but circumstances will put demands on her during the children’s time off from school.

“I’ll have to put my kids in day care before and after school,” she said.

Schmelz contends that the two-week fall break doesn’t fit with a lot of family schedules because of parent job commitments, and it shortens the window of vacation time during the longer summer break.

“I don’t understand who came up with this crazy calendar,” Schmelz said. “I voted against it when the survey went up, as did all of the many other parents I have spoken with.”

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