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Mark Hayward's City Matters: Year-round school means no time for summer boredom

By MARK HAYWARD
August 03. 2018 10:33PM
Jahdiel Ramos, 16, of Manchester works with adviser Gerard Murray at Making Connections in Manchester last week. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)



As a parent of two former school children, I can attest that summer is boring.

June elation segues into July frustration into August abomination.

But that’s not the case for Manchester resident Jahdiel Ramos. Last week, he was sitting in an air-conditioned office building working on his college-preparatory reading.

He is a student at the MC2 Manchester charter school, a year-round school for middle and high school kids. It’s one of two such schools in the state — the other being MC2 Monadnock in Keene — that have a year-round calendar.

“It’s boring in the summer sometimes,” Ramos said. This is his third summer at MC2, where his mother sent him after he rebelled over her attempt at home schooling.

“When I heard school in the summer, my mom said, ‘Suck it up,’” he said. “It’s fun coming in and seeing my friends every day.”

MC2 — the name stands for Making Community Connections — is about as alt as you can get when it comes to alternative education. Students are called learners. The two school groupings — applications and creations — correspond roughly to middle school and high school.

Grades such as 9 and 10 are called phases; classrooms are advisories, where students are overseen by advisers. A lot of work is individualized; advisers don’t stand in front of kids sitting at desks. And the school year is divided into 10-week quarters. They’re separated by three weeks of vacation, where boredom has little opportunity to germinate.

Leah Lyonnais, who is 15, said she cries a little inside when her Manchester High School Central friends tell her they’re going to the beach. But she was habitually truant when she attended Central; last quarter, she had perfect attendance at MC2.

“It keeps me out of trouble,” said Lyonnais, who attends the school with her two sisters. “Once I got here, I started thinking this isn’t even that bad.”

Summer and education have been on a lot of people’s minds this year.

In Manchester, school officials have gone full bore with a summer reading program, which includes a reconstituted bookmobile, summer hours at some school libraries, and reading time at programs such as YMCA summer camp. And Manchester schools Superintendent Dr. Bolgen Vargas often laments about the summer slide and its harmful effects on disadvantaged kids.

But going to a year-round calendar?

“It has merit if the conditions are right,” Vargas said. But numerous issues, he said, would have to be addressed such as air conditioning and the city’s 170-day instructional year — a statewide low.

The state’s education commissioner, Frank Edelblut, a big cheerleader for charter schools, wouldn’t comment about year-round schools. “It really is a local control issue,” he said through his spokesman, Anthony Schinella.

While MC2 welcomes anyone, the school attracts learners who had trouble with traditional education, said David Lane, the school leader. For five years, the school operated out of space in a mill building on Rogers Street. This year it moved into unused space at the Union Leader building, after the newspaper reduced the footprint of its headquarters.

In fact, I spoke to Ramos and Lyonnais in the former executive office suites.

No evidence exists of classrooms.

You think you’re in a high-tech office building rather than a school. Students work on laptops at counters or tables, many placed alongside tinted corporate office windows.

The tables are in no particular order, and the kids sit on bean bags, tables, even traditional chairs. Schedules and meeting notes are written on a few whiteboards. The kids are attuned to their phases and talk knowledgeably about the work that’s expected of them.

Jay Burris was unhappy with summer learning, saying he’d prefer hanging at his home or his summer job hanging drywall.

“I’m forced to be here,” he said, as he worked on a KhanAcademy lesson on improper fractions. “I don’t have any downtime. I’m always too tired to go to the weight room,” he said. He plans to play football for Central this fall; city school programs such as sports and music are available to the students.

Lane stresses that MC2 students get similar vacation time off as traditional students, but just in three-week clumps. Two of the break periods line up with school breaks — the Christmas break at the end of the calendar year and the three weeks in the early summer. Two don’t.

The summer quarter ends Sept. 14, meaning Burris will be on vacation for three weeks while he’s playing football for Central.

Lane acknowledged that enrollment dips a little in the summer. If parents give a valid reason — such as a multi-week vacation — they can avoid the summer quarter. About 10 in the student body, which numbers 80, opted out of school this summer.

“My old school never did this type of stuff,” said Deerfield resident Justin Shubelka, who is 17. He’s spending a lot of the summer concentrating on math, which involves the online math instructional Prodigy. “It feels a lot better than staying home for a whole month.”

Mark Hayward’s City Matters appears Saturday in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at mhayward@unionleader.com.


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