Why start school in August?


Time flies - especially summer vacation if you are a public school student. Petal schools opened on August 7. Of course, the teachers have been there since August 1. For the first three weeks, it’s basically summer school.

The last  I checked, the month of August was still “summer.” When I was last in high school the year was 1967, and school started for us students the day after Labor Day, or the first Tuesday in September.

Of course, back in the day, there was no air conditioning in the classrooms and football players were still fed salt tablets during the pre-season training.

It was thought back then that the salt tablets were replacing the salt lost through the sweat coming off the players. Just plain water would have been better than salt tablets, but we didn’t know then about electrolytes.

Now the prescribed refreshment for sweaty football players is Gatorade.

Sweat, of course, is the body’s way of cooling off in heated conditions like August in south Mississippi. Columbia, my home town, once had a player that could not sweat. The trainers had to keep dousing him with water to keep him cooled.

I once attended summer school.

Our high school schedule had room for six subjects. (Six class hours in a school day.)

In order to take Latin, I had to make room in my schedule by taking World History in the summer. Latin was wasted on me. I still can not talk to an ancient Roman today if I met one on the street.

Anyway, there was no a/c so we depended on box fans in the front of the room to cool the room a little bit. The drawback was, that if you were not seated on the front two rows, the benefits of the fan were lost. I was seated near the back of the room.

Having written on a page of notebook paper, the paper would stick to my forearm  when I picked up my arm. Of course the page would have sweat stains on it. The teacher, however, was pretty forgiving about the wet work turned in.

Football did not begin the season until the end of the first week of school, which would put it about the end of the first week in September. There must be something to global warming, because I remember wearing at least a long sleeve shirt to the first game, sometimes a sweater.

Now, it’s possible to go through the entire football season wearing short sleeve shirts.

The question arises, “Why start the school year in August as opposed to September?”

First of all, an earlier start date gives teachers more instructional time before statewide assessment tests in the spring.

Several experts agreed that this is one of the biggest factors pushing calendars back.

When I taught, I bucked the system, I guess. I saved my most intense instruction until the last couple of weeks before the state testing.

I spent the two weeks reinforcing the basics of my subject, English.

In Petal, starting in August allows for a fall break around the second Monday in October, the end of the first nine weeks.

Nine weeks is halfway to the Christmas break and signals the first cumulative testing date.

Of course, with air conditioning, students could go the school the year round, but studies indicate that students learn better when there are frequent “breaks.”

In Petal the first break comes on October 8, called the Fall Break. Then, November 19 is the beginning of the week-long Thanksgiving break. December, as in every year, Christmas break covers two weeks.                 Coming back from the Christmas break in January, students can begin counting down the days until the week-long Spring Break, starting on March 11.

I know and applaud that Petal is one of the highest ranked schools in the state, but to me, starting school in August is a waste of time.


Petal’s Louis Breakfield is a former editor of The Columbian-Progress and The Magee Courier. Breakfield also taught high school for 25 years. Reach him via email at: mlbs@live.com