At the very least, House Bill 255 is starting a serious discussion about year-round school calendars in Wyoming.
The bill, sponsored by Reps. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, and Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, failed to clear a Senate committee. Six volunteer school districts each would have received $500,000 to pilot year-round education programs at one of their schools.
“What we really want to do is have a couple test schools, see if it works and see if the testing scores improve or if there is any difference,” Nicholas said. “This is just trying to be creative to incentive some schools that want to do this."
In short, added Nicholas, "The concept is: What can we do more to improve test scores and the quality of education we have?”
The longed-for benefits are easy to recall: Lessen the summer brain-drain, keep students engaged and active, improve student achievement.
Studies are consistent in suggesting summer retention gaps are more prevalent among lower income students and more pronounced in math and science. The hypothesis the legislators proposed is that less time off in the summer should result in more correct answers in calculus and physics.
The bill would have capped breaks in the year-round calendar to no more than three weeks, yet kept the overall number of school days the same as other schools.
Given the shift in family dynamics in recent decades, the change would presumably aid a lot of families. As many know, entertaining children full-time over summer break is doubly difficult when working full-time.
The few details outlined in HB255 turned some legislators off. Some questioned the impact on agriculture communities, others the cost.
Districts would be tasked with answering other questions:
• Which schools would benefit most from the program? What are the demographics of those schools? The affect on and need for the change will vary from Ethete to Jackson, from North Casper to Crest Hill.
• Beyond the Friday night lights, how are extra-curricular activities handled?
• How are other resources and values in the community impacted? In addition to the agricultural concern raised in Cheyenne, other districts will have to work around hunting season.
We are also eager to see how successes would be measured. Valid impacts on standardized tests wouldn't available until years after the program started. The influence on graduation and dropout rates would be even longer.
Given the above, year-round school calendar success will vary from district to district and school to school.
Officials in Riverton are beginning the discussion, and other districts in the state should take notes. Fremont County School District 25 will study implementing a year-round school plan.
"We know our traditional calendar has some significant pitfalls for student learning in it," Superintendent Terry Snyder told the Riverton Ranger.
Board members approved the study at a recent meeting and cited the same, anticipated benefits.
But the key, noted Snyder, was tailoring the calendar to the community.
"To adjust our plan to get a few dollars from the state might compromise the plan we need to put together," he said. "We'd be looking to create a design of our own...that meets the needs of our kids."
By meeting the needs of our kids today, we'd be meeting the needs of Wyoming's work force in the future.