LONG BEACH — Considering the time of year, it was an odd place to be.
On Monday they had been out watching fireworks or eating hot dogs in celebration of that most evocative of summer holidays, the Fourth of July. Less than 24 hours later, they were attending their first school day after a vacation of only two weeks.
"I'm completely in shock," said Lorene DeLany, 30, who just 10 days before had moved to Long Beach with her two elementary school-aged children, entirely unaware that she and her family were about to become part of a local educational experiment. "It's going to present some problems."
'I Hate This'
Said Sabra Dodd, 27, and the mother of three: "I hate this. The kids don't get to enjoy their summer and you can't enjoy the summer with your kids."
But for every disgruntled parent, there seemed to be at least one who viewed the day with calm open-mindedness. And by mid-morning, school officials were describing the first day of the Long Beach Unified School District's sojourn into year-round education as a complete success. "It's amazingly smooth," said Kathy Clark, a program specialist for integration planning and one of the architects of the year-round plan. "It's like still water. We're very pleased."
Faced with enrollment increases of more than 1,000 students annually, the 67,000-student district decided last year to convert four of its elementary schools to year-round schedules as a hedge against overcrowding. By dividing students into four rotating groups--each with 60 days of classes followed by 20 days of vacation--district officials believe they can increase overall capacity by about 25%. If the plan works for the estimated 3,000 students enrolled at the four pilot schools, officials say, they would like to expand it eventually to the entire district.
"There are a lot of educational benefits" including better retention by students and less teacher burnout, said Bob Robertson, principal of Lee Elementary School.
Other schools participating in the plan are Burbank, Willard and Stevenson. "I'm very excited about year-round," said Burbank principal Jean Y. Evans.
Although some parents shared her enthusiasm, others interviewed on the first day of classes said they had serious concerns, particularly regarding the plan's potential effect on family life and the availability of adequate child care during off-school periods.
Debra Stevenson, 29, said she and her family plan to move to Orange County to avoid year-round education. Among other things, said the mother, who is a Jehovah's Witness, the plan interferes with the ability of her two children to accompany her on summertime door-to-door preaching missions, an activity they have enjoyed. "It totally messes up the kids' summer and my work schedule," said Stevenson, a nurse at a brain injury center.
Cuts Working Hours
Kim Salazar, 31, said she has been forced to reduce the hours she spends at her sales job until she can find adequate after-school care for her two children, ages 9 and 6. In the past, she said, they have participated in a YMCA latchkey program that is not available during summer months.
Parents were given the option of having their children bused to schools with traditional school years, but only about 60 families chose to do so, Clark said. Stevenson, for one, said that even though she hates year-round schools, she prefers them to schools that are in distant neighborhoods.
About 30% of the approximately 100 teachers assigned to the four participating schools asked for transfers, Clark said, but more teachers from other schools specifically requested year-round assignments.
"Now when I take vacations I am going to meet some people besides other teachers on vacation," said Nancy Grandquist, a sixth-grade teacher at Burbank who bicycled to work the first day wearing shorts, sandals and a breezy blue and pink shirt.
Despite the dark moods of some of their parents and the inevitable screams of a few beginning kindergartners reluctant to leave their mothers, most of the children seemed to view the new schedule in that same adventurous spirit.
"It's fun," Karrie Waffle, 9, said of the first day at school. "I get bored in the summer because there's nothing to do."
Said Summer Morgon, 10: "I don't like staying home. Going to school is funner."
According to district spokesman Dick Van der Laan, Tuesday's attendance was about 80%--10% less than usual on the first day of school. Van der Laan attributed the lower turnout to misunderstandings on the part of some parents and the "pioneering" character of year-round education.