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Staff, students bloom at Garden City

Calendar switch fills empty seats, refreshes

There were certain times of the year when school principal Sean Harrington would glance through the windows of his classrooms and see more empty desks than he would have liked.

It wasn't sickness, however, that was causing increasing numbers of his Garden City elementary students to be marked absent, sometimes for weeks on end during instructional time.

The extra breathing space in the classroom was down to the cultural make-up of the school, with families jetting off around the world to visit relatives at times when they were on vacation.

The hunger to fill up those empty seats during the school year was one of the ingredients folded into the recipe that produced Garden City's balanced calendar creation in 2010 - a schedule inspired by, but distinct from, the Spul'u'kwuks' model.

Instead of the Spul'u'kwuks fullblown balanced calendar, Garden City tempered their new schedule, siding with extra class time in the first two weeks of July and adding a week's vacation onto December and spring.

"We have quite a high ESL population at the school, with families dotted from all around the world," said Harrington.

"Those families tended to take breaks throughout the year to visit extended family. Other parts of the world, of course, take breaks at different times from us, so there were occasions when several students were missing from a class regularly during the year.

"We wanted to give them the chance to visit those families without the children missing out on education and without disrupting the class routine."

Since the switch, the families in question have taken full advantage of the extended December and spring breaks, said Harrington. "It's been really helpful in terms of having classrooms full of students."

One of his staff, Leanne Teixeira, who teaches Grades 3 and 4, said having increasing numbers of students absent for long periods of classtime was detrimental for everyone involved.

"We have lots of kids from Hong Kong; at least 80 to 90 per cent are Asian and I would regularly have two, three or four students missing weeks of school to go on vacation," Teixeira said.

"It can be extremely disruptive, but it depended on the child and how quickly they caught up when they returned."

From a parental point of view, Grace Cheng, whose daughter is in Grade 3, said not having to juggle two months of summer around is a blessing.

"If, like us, both parents are working full time, trying to get your children into programs is a challenge," Cheng said, noting that her daughter gets bored by the end of a two-month summer break.

"Although it's just two weeks of a difference, it's been very helpful.

"Also, I think she's been more eager to learn and more rested when going back to school after the longer breaks in December and spring."

After Spul'u'kwuks changed over to its new calendar in 2004, the Garden City school community began to sit up and take notice.

But it wasn't until 2008/9, once the calendar had bedded in at Spul'u'kwuks, that the idea really gained traction at Garden City.

"Some parents on the PAC were interested in the balanced calendar, but they wanted to wait a while and see how Spul'u'kwuks did," Harrington said.

"Three or four years ago, it was brought up again by staff who believed the calendar change would be good for the school, the community and for educational reasons."

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