Beginning in late July, students at James A. Whitaker Elementary School will attend class year-round--the first in the Buena Park School District to offer a continuous learning program.
Despite opposition from some parents, the Board of Trustees last week unanimously approved a pilot program that enables students to attend school throughout the year instead of the traditional nine months of school with nearly three months off in the summer.
Under the year-round school program, children will attend classes, starting July 26, for 180 school days like the traditional calendar. But instead of the long vacation during summer, time off is spread throughout the year, in which intersession programs will be offered to enhance learning.
"It gives us the opportunity to try something new and innovative," Supt. Jack Townsend said.
"We feel that many of the boys and girls of Whitaker's attendance area will benefit from the program because during intersession, their studies will be reinforced and they won't have to do a lot of reviewing because you won't have that long period of time like in the summer."
Advocates of the year-round program said it improves learning and retention.
Trustee Elizabeth Swift said she doesn't personally favor the change but voted to give year-round education a try.
"I love my summers with my kids," she said, adding that not all children get bored in the summer months and that they do more than watch television and go to shopping malls.
Swift said that there are city-sponsored programs children can participate in and that families also use the summer months to take vacations and spend time with their children.
"A lot of learning goes on outside the classroom," she said. "I want my freedom (to spend summers with her children), and I know other parents want that, too."
Whitaker Principal Dick Martin said that 85% of the parents who returned surveys regarding the change favored the year-round curriculum.
But some parents opposed the switch at recent board meetings, voicing concerns such as finding day care and taking away family summer vacation time.
Townsend said the district has a child-care program that will be available and other day-care possibilities include the local boys and girls club and city recreation programs. In addition, students will have the option of using the independent study program if vacations are planned while school is in session.
Townsend added that students choosing not to attend school year-round will be able to transfer to other district schools.
But Martin said that of the 670 students who currently attend Whitaker, he expects fewer than 30 children to be transferred to other schools.
Martin also said the district has addressed other parent concerns, including plans to increase security at the school by closing the campus and to offer an anti-drug program in August, taught by police officers, to step up police visibility on campus.
Townsend also said the district plans to place air conditioning in the school's auditorium, another concern voiced by some parents. The classrooms are already equipped with air conditioning.
Trustees plan to re-evaluate the pilot program next March.