Education

It’s the middle of summer. Can you believe school’s already starting?

Ben Brandon, a senior at Oak Ridge High School, scores a run as he slides into a kids’ pool during a kickball game on the first day of school.
Ben Brandon, a senior at Oak Ridge High School, scores a run as he slides into a kids’ pool during a kickball game on the first day of school. The Sacramento Bee

Oak Ridge High School students started their school year Monday with a raucous rally and a game of kickball, with runners sliding into pools of water instead of bases.

The students, along with teens from the four other campuses in the El Dorado Union High School District, were among the first on traditional calendars to start classes this year in the Sacramento region.

By the end of week students from eight school districts – representing the majority of the region’s pupils – will be back in school even though the end of summer is six weeks away.

“It just crept up one year at a time,” said Oak Ridge Principal Aaron Palm of the early start date. “A few days here, a few days there.”

The big jump forward in the calendar came about seven years ago when the district joined many others in moving the school year up two weeks to ensure students took end-of-semester finals before winter break. Palm said the two- to three-week breaks preceding finals were a disservice to students who had put in months of hard work preparing.

“We’d rather they spend that time with family,” he said.

On Monday, Oak Ridge High offered an array of first-day activities to ease the return. Beside the welcome rally, teen volunteers showed new students to their classes, while others formed a line to cheer and high five students as they arrived.

Palm said none of the students seemed especially unhappy about being back.

“They are just used to it now,” he said.

Elk Grove Unified schools that operate on a traditional calendar started classes Thursday.

Parent Julie Castle – whose children attend elementary school, middle school and high school in Elk Grove – said her family is accustomed to ending the summer break in August, but she is nostalgic about the longer summers of her youth.

“We are used to having 10 weeks of summer,” she said. “When they get out in May, we know we only have 10 weeks to cram in what we have to do.”

She said it would be nice to be able to incorporate the Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays into summer travel plans, but she often finds it hard to keep her kids busy, especially while she works.

“Sometimes going back to school after 10 weeks is a good thing,” she said.

Parenting expert Catherine Pearlman said parents can help students with the transition back to school.

Pearlman, an assistant professor at Brandman University, recommends parents roll back bedtimes, plan homework schedules, organize after-school activities and gather supplies – but only about a week before the school year starts. To do it earlier can produce more anxiety in kids, she said.

Parents with younger children should consider taking them to visit their school before the year begins to familiarize them with their classroom, pick-up and drop-off points and their teacher, if possible.

“They can get excited for the first day of school,” she said.

She also recommends that parents reunite school friends who haven’t seen each other over the summer to assuage any social fears children may have.

Because school begins in the middle of summer, Pearlman said families should plan one last activity to mark its end such as a trip or a movie night.

Finally, Pearlman offers some advice to help parents get through the transition.

“They aren’t going to have the lunchboxes clean. They are going to be disorganized themselves,” she said. “Things aren’t going to go perfectly, but they are going to be OK.”

Thomas Dodson, an expert who advises teachers and parents on digital communications, says school districts need to train educators and set clear guidelines on handling social media and texting.

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert

When does school start?

  • Aug. 8 - Twin Rivers Unified
  • Aug. 9 - Natomas Unified
  • Aug. 9-10 Elk Grove Unified
  • Aug. 10 - San Juan Unified, Folsom Cordova Unified
  • Aug. 16 - Rocklin Unified, Washington Unified
  • Aug. 17 - Roseville City School District, Western Placer Unified
  • Aug. 21 - Woodland Joint Unified
  • Aug. 23 - Davis Joint Unified
  • Aug. 31 - Sacramento City Unified
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