L.A. Schools May Follow Southeast to Year-Round Plan

November 03, 1985|ELAINE WOO | Times Staff Writer

In the Westside, San Fernando Valley and South Bay portions of the Los Angeles city school district, where the traditional two-semester system prevails, the prospect of year-round school rankles a lot of parents.

"It would be absolutely a crime for kids to have to miss out on so many of the advantages that can only be afforded during the summer," said a Canoga Park parent about a proposal now before the Los Angeles school board to operate the district's 618 schools year-round. The plan would be one means of coping with an imminent enrollment explosion.

"What do you do about the kid who needs to work or wants to work to afford the frills? And what about the camping experiences that are only available in the summer? I remember my summer vacations," she said, "and I think it's awful" to consider taking them away.

But in the Southeast area of the district, which encompasses Cudahy, Bell, Huntington Park, Maywood and South Gate, overcrowding caused most schools to switch to year-round operation at least five years ago; a few Southeast schools went year-round 6 to 11 years ago. Have students there sacrificed any traditional summertime activities? Or has the outside world of jobs and camp adapted to their schedule?

Made Adjustments

The response has been encouraging in some respects and non-existent in others.

Traditional youth employers, such as fast-food franchises and other businesses that hire temporary workers, seem to have made the adjustment with no problem. According to high school work-experience counselors, teen-agers are able to find jobs during their "off-track" or vacation periods, whether their breaks fall in winter, spring, summer or autumn.

However, operators of summer camps and academic enrichment programs at local colleges have been slower to recognize the needs of year-round students. And other providers of summer activities, such as parks and recreation departments and public libraries, have made some changes in their services but are hampered by staffing problems and slender budgets.

When year-round school was first introduced in Southeast communities, it met stiff resistance from parents. But Los Angeles city school board member Larry Gonzalez, who represents East Los Angeles and most of the Southeast region of the district, said, "Parents have adapted well." According to school officials, few parents request track changes to accommodate a family vacation.

The main problems are caused by local municipalities that still gear up for youth activities primarily in the summer, Gonzalez said. The Maywood Recreation Department, for example, maintains longer park hours from June to September than in other months.

But Gonzalez and other board members said it would be worthwhile for public parks and other purveyors of children's services to change their schedules if the entire district is placed on year-round operation. Los Angeles is seriously considering the switch primarily because the district is expecting 70,000 additional students over the next five years, a number that would require classroom space equivalent to 55 new schools. However, by using existing campuses all year long, the district would gain space without having to build those schools. Furthermore, like school officials in other districts that have adopted the year-round system, Los Angeles board members are attracted by the potential educational benefits, such as shorter vacations.

Students Divided

District officials are studying several year-round calendars. But, in general, the year-round concept involves dividing students into different groups or "tracks" that take vacations at different times of the year, instead of everyone getting the same three-month summer break.

In most Southeast-area schools, the student body is divided into three groups, each spending two four-month periods in class and two two-month periods on vacation. One group is off in summer and late winter, the second in fall and spring, and the third in early winter and late spring.

From a job-hunting standpoint, the staggered vacations have benefited both teen-agers and their employers.

"In a regular school situation, there's an abundance of kids looking for jobs in the summer. There are more students than there are jobs," South Gate High School Principal Philip Breskin observed. "But in a year-round school, only one-third of the students are out at summertime. They are able to obtain a job. . . . For both our kids and employers, (year-round) seems a lot better" than the traditional schedule.

Jerry Turner, who owns Wilburn's Discount Party Center in South Gate, has employed many South Gate students and likes the year-round arrangement.

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