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Striking balance between life and learning

Busy mom enjoys summer break to connect with son

Vicky Forsyth has had one brush with a balanced school calendar - and the very busy, working, single mom is none to keen on turning back the clock.

Forsyth's son, Connor, in Grade 2 at the time, was one of the first students to experience the switch away from the traditional calendar when his school, Spul'u'kwuks elementary, changed over in 2004.

Instead of the standard two-month summer break, the Terra Nova-based school slid over to three, three-month educational sessions, each followed by a one-month vacation in December, April and August.

While the major shift was embraced by the majority of the Spul'u'kwuks community - everyone affected voted - Forsyth knew right off the bat there would be significant challenges to overcome.

"I voted against it for a number of reasons," said Forsyth, a qualified physiotherapist and full-time project manager.

"It was going to be the only school in the district on this calendar and Connor had lots of friends in other schools on the traditional calendar. If everyone had changed, it would have been okay. I was also worried about the daycare situation. Would they be changing too?

"And we are not a traditional nuclear family. My ex-husband doesn't live with us and we (mom and son) use the summer to reconnect. If we only had four weeks off in the summer, I would only have him for two weeks of that."

When she's on vacation, Forsyth says, she wants to spend it with Connor.

"Taking time off work in April and December is not always that easy," she added. "I'm very busy at those times, as opposed to the summer months."

Forsyth kept Connor at Spul'u'kwuks for the first year of the balanced calendar, but then requested a move to Westwind elementary in Steveston, where her son had friends through soccer.

The request was initially denied, as the school wasn't in her catchment area, but Connor got in after an appeal.

Thinking back, Forsyth recalls little in the way of academia happening at Spul'u'wuks anyway during that first July in school.

"It was mostly special events and sports days.

"All his friends from other schools were off, and he was getting invited to go camping and do summer stuff, so he felt kind of left out," she said.

Besides, Forsyth said she loved the long summer break as a child, as it's a special time for "socializing with family, friends and the community," she insisted.

"I really don't think the academic benefits outweigh the social benefits.

"If they're on the X-Box in the summer, they're going to be on it in December and April, it depends what the environment is at home."

Connor, who turned 15 this week, and is in Grade 9 at McMath secondary, said he was "shocked" when he heard that balanced calendars might be considered.

And he's absolutely certain what schedule he'd rather be on.

"I was thinking, 'there goes the summer,'" said Connor.

"Even when it gets to the end of May, it kinda sucks to be stuck inside all day, never mind in July. I would much rather be out in the sunshine in July than be stuck inside in December and April.

"I usually go away for a really big chunk of the summer and spend a lot of time hanging with family and friends. It's pretty much what we all look forward to the year round."

One of the theories backing up a switch to the balanced calendar is that the longer, two-month summer break leads to a dramatic "loss of learning" of what was taught prior to the vacation.

It's a theory, not surprisingly, Connor struggles to prescribe to.

"With kids our age, it doesn't matter if it's two weeks or two months, we still lose something I think," he said.

"I don't think having just a month off instead of two months off will make any difference. I know I lose information after a two week spring break."

If, at some point down the line, Richmond School District did decide to make the switch, the challenges for families such as the Forsyths would be front and centre.

"Personally, trying to manage the time off would be challenging. I have six weeks vacation every year and I try to take as much of that as possible off in the summer and spend it with Connor," said Forsyth.

"I can't imagine being able to take two weeks off at spring break, I'm just too busy.

"And I'd imagine there are lots of people who can't take time off in December for the same reasons."