School days have interested me clear back to first grade at Academy Grade School in Buckhannon. In the beginning the thrill of being let out for the summer pleased me most. I recall the chant: “School’s out, school’s out, Teacher let the mules out!” However, at the January 25, 2022, Upshur County Board of Education meeting, I focused on the agenda item: PROPOSED CALENDAR FOR THE 2022-2023 SCHOOL YEAR discussion led by Tim Derico.
Several observations are important to note. We go to school longer on a daily basis than the West Virginia State Department of Education requires. The daily standard for elementary grades is 315 minutes; for middle school, 330 minutes; and for high school, 345 minutes. The benefit for extending the instruction time comes when winter snow closes or delays school. We have banked extra minutes so we can draw down time, still getting our required 180 days without extending the end of school. And if global warming means fewer snow days, our students get the benefit of more classroom instruction time.
I remember when our family volunteered to visit Communist China a year after the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests and Massacre. This might have been a risky adventure for West Virginia physicians and our 13-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son, but I figured China would guarantee the first 100 Americans’ safety. Indeed, we saw much and learned valuable lessons without harm. One lesson learned apropos to school calendars is that their school day was very long compared to ours. They stayed until about 6 p.m. daily and held class on Saturday, too. From that I learned that they valued their children’s education.
Another observation from Tim Derico’s calendar discussion comes from realizing the cooperative spirit our BOE enjoys with five counties in central West Virginia. Because employability of our graduates is part of our mission, we enroll students in the Fred W. Eberle Technical Center located right here in Buckhannon. These motivated students have eyes peeled on future careers. They need extra time to learn the skills that will lead to professional success. Our Tri-County School endeavor is the first such trade school in West Virginia. We must match Barbour, Lewis and Upshur counties school calendars. That is putting education ahead of summer vacations or even Christmas break. But there is more cooperation—Lewis and Gilmer counties must match calendars because they share an elementary school enrolling students from these two lower population rural counties in a grade school on their county lines. And yet more cooperation—Gilmer and Calhoun counties share a Technical Center. They match a common calendar.
Hunting and gathering are important mountaineer traditions. We enjoy Thanksgiving week as a holiday, allowing parents and grandparents precious time as families, bringing in a bountiful harvest. Recently I judged both the science fair and the social science fair. One student’s exhibit astutely monitored the deer herd habits in his neck of the woods. He determined the best chance to see and to hunt a deer was in the evening, except on Thursdays when the herds came out of hiding in the mid-afternoon. Hunting scientifically pays off. Not only does he harvest his deer limit, but he has also learned to only shoot the eight-point bucks. Thus, he and his family serve deer twice a week due to their due diligence.
Another accommodation in the school calendar is starting the first semester earlier than the traditional Labor Day. Allowing the semester to be completed before Christmas adds quality to life. Again, families have memory-making time to celebrate Christmas and New Years without facing semester exams in January. How wise, to create precious multigenerational memory-making times.
The final observation from our calendar discussion is that we have plenty of time in June to make sure we get our 180 instructional days in before the June 30 legal end of the school calendar. Yes, this includes a Friday holiday for Strawberry Festival Week. How blessed we are to have the oldest and the largest agriculturally-based festival in West Virginia.
Our school calendar mixes learning time; family time; and heritage time in just the right proportions for balanced living—love, work and play. A big thank-you to Tim Derico and the calendar committee.