The Peel District School Board recently opened their third balanced-calendar institution, at Tony Pontes Public School. Roberta Bondar and Ray Lawson public schools are the other schools offering the schedule in Peel.
The balanced-calendar schedule scraps the long summer holidays designed more than a century ago so kids could help out on the farm. The school year began on July 31 and ends next year, on June 29. Year-round schools have the same number of instructional days as a regular school, but the calendar is rearranged. Summer vacation is a four-week break in July and there’s a two-week break in October, three weeks over Christmas and New Year’s, one week in February and a two-week March break.
“I think we know that having frequent breaks helps us all,” said Tony Pontes school principal Sheryl Johnston. “It helps with our health and well being as well as giving time for teachers to pause, reflect and re-set. When I was a teacher, the long haul between September and December was just that and now it’s nice to have some time off in October to re-charge.”
Johnston has been involved with the balanced-calendar system since it was launched when Roberta Bondar Public School opened in 2005. She was a Grade Three teacher then and moved up the ranks as vice principal and principal at the innovative school.
“It was a pilot project,” she explained. “I believe that being able to give families choice strengthens public education.”
Shorter periods away from the classroom is also seen as an effective way to assist students in retaining lesson material.
Johnston explains how Grade One teachers are finding they can get to teaching and learning quicker in the classroom. In the older grades, teachers comment on how they do less review of what was taught the previous year.
“Anecdotally, in my own experience as a teacher, it doesn’t take as long; you come back and jump right into things,” she said. “We know it works. We experience success and I know the kids are very happy to be here.”
While the actual Tony Pontes building is still being built in Caledon, the students are temporarily sharing space at Countryside Village Public School in Brampton. In September though, the building will house students attending classes on both the traditional and balanced calendars.
“But we’ll try not to rub it in too much when we go on holidays in October,” said Johnston, with a chuckle. “Certainly, there is some good humour going back and forth between the two schools.”
Photo:Teacher Navjot Kailey welcomes students back from their abbreviated summer holiday at Tony Pontes Public School.