High days and holidays

Lucy Hodges

While many American pupils are enjoying a two-and-a-half month summer holiday, others, notably in Los Angeles, have just begun the 1995-96 school year.

As many as 200 schools in Los Angeles, the second largest school district in the US after New York, have been put on a year-round calendar to ease congested classrooms and corridors. That means that two-thirds of the children are always attending school, and the buildings are being used all year.

"Once they get used to it, the kids love it," said Maria E Tostado, head of Garfield High School on the Hispanic east side of LA. "And parents are so used to year-round now that they don't think much about it."

Pupil numbers have become so swollen in some parts of America, particularly in California with its immigrants from central America, and in New York, that year-round schooling is really the only option when money is short.

New York City is expected to begin an experiment with a year-round calendar at a few schools within a year.

Most of the schools which stay open all year are in California - 1,200 out of 2,000 nationally. In Los Angeles 42 per cent of children (270,000) are on a year-round calendar. Officials say that this allows them to expand capacity by between a quarter and a half. Maintenance and administrative costs are higher, but still much less than the cost of building new schools.

At Garfield High School, 4,200 children are educated in buildings that hold 3,200 desks. Only two-thirds of the pupils are there at any one time, the remainder are on one of the two eight-week annual breaks.

The long summer holiday has gone. Some pupils resent that. But some teachers say that the system is better for pupil performance, because they do not have the long summer in which to forget everything they learnt the year before.

However, pupils at the year-round schools actually spend less time at school - 163 days instead of the traditional 180. That is balanced by the days being extended from seven hour to seven hours and 40 minutes.

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