By Lauren Casey and Suzannah Couch
Perry-Meridian Middle School student Trevor Russell will head back to school Tuesday - what many consider the middle of summer - but he's excited.
He gets to see friends sooner. He's going to have more breaks throughout the year. And he thinks he might start the semester remembering more from last year.
"I think most of my friends are excited too," Trevor said. "We usually get bored by the end of summer break because it is so long, so now we get to see each other more during the year."
Perry Township Schools - like many other districts across the state - are moving this year to what's called a balanced calendar. It's a revised schedule that creates a shorter summer, an earlier start date and more frequent and longer breaks throughout the school year.
Local school boards set their own calendars and recently a number of districts have been mulling the balanced calendar option. Districts in Brownsburg, Franklin Township, Milan, New Albany, New Castle and other communities are making the switch.
Department of Education officials said they didn't know how many districts are now using the calendar or are making a change. A spokesman for the agency said it doesn't track that information.
Avon Schools Superintendent Margaret Hoernemann said the district is trying a balanced calendar this year after a good response about the idea from the community.
"We did a fair amount of communication with our community especially on social media sites.The reaction to the balanced calendar has overall been very positive.People want to give it a try," said Hoernemann. "At the moment, going back to school seems early but it will feel nice in October.We haven't received many complaints yet."
But not all Hoosiers are ready to accept this calendar change.
Save Indiana Summers is a nonprofit organization made up of teachers, parents and community members that argue against shortened summer breaks because they believe it is no more beneficial students. The group is supported in part by companies that do significant business in the summer, including Holiday World - Splashin' Safari in Spencer County.
Tina Bruno, a representative for Save Indiana Summers, said a balanced calendar creates additional costs and eliminates "enrichment opportunities" for students that are available in the summer.
"The 180-day traditional calendar that most states are operating on right now has proven to be extremely successful," Bruno said.
She said other states that are performing well academically - including Texas, Florida and Virginia - are on a traditional schedules.
"When you start school is not tied to your academic success," Bruno said.
Indiana schools that opt for a balanced calendar must still have students attend at least 180 days. But some school officials believe that by shortening the summer, students will remember more when they return for the following year's first semester.
"I feel like I usually forget things over the summer," Russell said.
He said the new schedule should help him retain the information he learns in the classroom better.
But Hoernemann said that Avon Schools is less concerned about what students remember than they are about boosting attendance rates.She said research consistently shows that a balanced calendar leads to higher attendance by both students and faculty.
"We hope that if we can improve school attendance, then our students can learn more," she said.
In Southern Indiana, the Brown County School Corporation is also switching to a balanced calendar this year. Students will return to school Aug. 6, only a few days earlier than in recent years.
Superintendent David Shaffer said the corporation conducted a nearly five-month examination of calendars and also solicited community input. Shaffer said the district heard strong opinions for and against the balanced calendar.
School officials hope the calendar will "improve our delivery of curriculum and help our boys and girls with their academic progress," Shaffer said.
At Avon Schools, Hoernemann said one concern with the balanced calendar is student performance on the spring's Advanced Placement tests, which help high school students earn college credit. The exams are in early May - regardless of a school's own calendar – which could require students to study during their longer spring breaks so they are well prepared.
"For the other students, we hope to keep the breaks true breaks from schoolwork," she said.
Brown County schools expanded its fall break to one week but its spring break will remain one week long and will be later.
But Bruno - from Save Indiana Summers - said saving the time off for one long summer can be a good thing, even if students say they get bored.
"Boredom, getting tired of going to the pool, getting tired of having that lack of routine, that's a good thing," Bruno said. "Because then the grass is greener on the other side, that side's the school yard."
Lauren Casey and Suzannah Couch are reporters for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.
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