By Connie Llano, Staff Writer | LA Daily News
Principal Gary Grey helps students AlexArce, 14, and Kenneth Pineda, 13, find their classes during the first day of school at Sun Valley High School in Sun Valley, Monday, Aug. 9, 2010. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer)
08/10/2010 -- SUN VALLEY — Most Los Angeles Unified students still have a month to hang out all day at the mall, get lost in marathon texting sessions with friends or pass a hot summer day at the beach. | See photo gallery.
But students at Sun Valley, Arleta and Polytechnic high schools had to start the school year early Monday as part of a new "balanced traditional" calendar.
Adopted by the LAUSD school board in the spring, the new schedule is designed to help students retain more of what they learned from the previous year by shortening the summer break.
Getting a jump start on the year also allows students to finish the first semester in December so they don't have to take finals in January after the long Christmas break.
Sun Valley Principal Gary Gray said the new calendar should benefit his students, many of whom struggle to pass classes and graduate.
"The biggest problem we have is that students start school in September, then they go on their winter breaks in December, and are expected to come back ready to take their finals right after vacation," Gray said.
The new calendar also gives students more instructional time - and access to help from teachers - in each semester.
While students said they weren't thrilled about facing homework and pop quizzes in early August, most took the new schedule in stride.
"I'm not sure that I would say I'm crazy about the classwork... but I'm glad to be able to see all of my buddies and it beats staying home," said Sun Valley senior Ryan Mayorga.
Students at the three East Valley campuses will be in school during two 90-day sessions, with six-week breaks in between under the new "balanced traditional" school calendar Approved by Los Angeles district officials this past spring.
Students will also get the chance to attend school during the breaks to brush up on skills or retake failed classes.
In contrast, most LAUSD students will start class on Sept. 13 and then have 12 weeks off during the summer.
But East Valley students on the balanced traditional calendar won't be the only kids hitting the books while summer is in full swing.
Another batch of LAUSD students at 17 campuses will launch their fall semester next Monday under the "early start" calendar.
Those schools include 13 San Fernando Valley sites: Canoga Park, Chatsworth, Cleveland, El Camino, Kennedy, Monroe, Northridge Academy, Daniel Pearl Journalism and Communications Magnet, Reseda, Sylmar, Taft, Van Nuys and Verdugo high schools.
For decades LAUSD schools have had different calendars, usually putting students on year-round schedules to address overcrowding.
However both of these alternative calendars were launched to address specific student needs, educators said.
Educators say the "balanced traditional" plan has a lot of advantages over the traditional calendar. Under the standard September-through-June calendar, students who fail a class in the fall have to wait until the summer to retake it. And if a student fails the first part of Algebra, for example, in the fall, it is more than likely that they will fail the second half of the course during the spring. The new calendar allows them to retake the class during their six-week break, letting them return with their other classmates when the new semester starts.
"Our kids will have more opportunity for intervention... that is the main reason I went for it," Gray said.
The "early start" calendar, which takes effect next Monday, was designed to better prepare students for life after high school by simulating the college schedule.
This calendar also lets students finish their fall semester before the winter break and leaves enough time for students to take exams for advanced courses before they go on their December holiday vacations.
Of course like any program change, the roll-out period can present its share of challenges.
Gray admitted that despite his efforts to reach out to the community to inform them of the change many students — especially incoming ninth graders — missed class Monday or showed up late.
Parents like Martha Zamora were still trying to enroll their children for the first day of school mid-morning Monday.
Even with the slight confusion though Zamora said she was happy to have her son start school earlier.
"Whatever keeps them in class more time," Zamora said.
"More school time means more learning time."
smf notes: Presumptions 1+2
- The "two 90 day sessions" presume that there will be 180 instruction days in the school year – failing to take into account LAUSD's reduced calendar with 7 furlough days.
- The presumption that there will be opportunity to make up failed classes during the two six-week breaks presumes that the needed classes will be offered in both breaks – presumptive in this budget crunch. 2a: Will classes be available to students to repeat if they get a "D" in a class? – UC and CSU do not accept "D"s in A-G (required classes) as passing grades for admission. And A-G is the LAUSD graduation requirement.
Finally, Supt. Cortines in his explanation for the schedules [ http://bit.ly/bHd7DO]says: "Starting classes before Labor Day allows students to take end-of-semester exams before the winter break, instead of two months later in February. Research shows that the earlier calendar helps students retain more material before taking those tests." This explanation and research 'tests' the definition of 'retain'. Retention is about subject matter learned and remembered; by testing earlier there is no expectation of retention.