Back to School

I’ve always maintained that the Jews have it right: the year really does start in the fall, when school starts. The weather is part of this: I always find myself energized by crisp, cool fall days (though we don’t usually get those till well into October on the Gulf Coast). But there’s also the excitement and suspense of starting fresh with new teachers and classes. We moved so often in my childhood that I was often starting in a new school in a new town as well, so it was always a new adventure. Although I haven’t been a student for over 35 years and haven’t had a child in school since 1999, I still get a lift when school starts.

Buying new school supplies was always part of the fun. A new blue buckram–covered ring binder filled with fresh filler paper, new pencils and crayons and spiral notebooks—does it get any better than this? Alabama, along with many other states around the country, declared a tax holiday this past weekend that was also honored by the county and most municipalities. School supplies, books, clothing, and computer equipment up to certain dollar amounts were tax-exempt. Many families were able to shop tax-free for merchandise for adults as well as students, though some still grumbled about the timing of the holiday—so close to the beginning of school that many items, especially school uniforms, were in short supply.

For schools that start after Labor Day, as is traditional, a month would be plenty of lead time. But when the high schools in our county went to a semester block schedule, the school system adopted an insane calendar in order to finish the first semester before Christmas. The school year now ends in early May and starts in early August. Our students will be returning for the 2008–2009 school year this coming Monday, August 11 (the teachers have already been back all this week). Sweltering temperatures and copper thefts that have put many school air conditioning systems out of service will make this a trial for all concerned, I’m afraid.

Still, school must go on, and in fact this morning we got a bit of a break. A wild storm last night, with lashing winds and over an inch of rain, cooled things down considerably. It was in the low 70s when I walked this morning, with a fresh breeze that made it feel actually chilly. One walker I met commented that it felt “almost like fall.” Indeed it did. I encountered another reminder of the beginning of the new season (in education if not in nature) just around the corner from our house. As I approached, it became increasingly clear what I was looking at: two dozen yellow No. 2 pencils strewn across the street. Sadly, they had been run over and smashed into uselessness—perhaps a poor omen for someone’s fresh start!

Update: The spotted/invisible house (along with its outbuilding) is now entirely leaf-green with cream trim, blending even more invisibly into its surroundings. It does look quite nice, though.

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2 Responses to Back to School

  1. Luc Sanders says:

    Hi Suzanne,
    School starts on 1 September here. For university students that would be the first of October. The school year ends at the end of June.
    Many parents take a day off to accompagny their children to school.
    When I compare my school days with now I must say everything seems crammed in to short a period of time. Especially since extracurricular activities boom.
    But I agree, it does bring back memories of how it used to be. Much less complicated than now. Summer seemed endless then, now I feel it is all going much too fast.

  2. I should clarify for my international reader(s) that Labor Day in the United States is the first Monday in September; obviously this can be any time from September 1 through September 7, so schools that start the next day can start between September 2 and September 8.

    Where I grew up, school started after Labor Day and went on well through June. When we moved here, it was traditional for schools to be out by Memorial Day (May 30), but they did usually start after Labor Day. In general, the school year is a little shorter here, or perhaps vacations during the school year are fewer or shorter.

    Various calendars have been tried in subsequent years. School funding is always a critical issue, and one year the Mobile schools just didn’t have any money in September, so opening was deferred till the new fiscal year started in October, causing the school year to run well into June. It turned out that this was actually pretty smart: in those days schools were not usually air conditioned, and it didn’t take long to figure out that it’s often hotter in September than in June.

    Recently, as some businesses and public agencies have gone to a four-day work week in response to fuel price increases, it has been suggested that schools could also adopt a four-day week. Unfortunately, since the length of the school year mandated by the state is defined in terms of days rather than hours, this will not be possible; instead, bus routes have been curtained and combined, field trips eliminated, etc.

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