A Georgia District's Schoolkids Are Back in Class Many students around the country still have weeks left of vacation, but for students in Rockdale County, Ga., the school year began today. The early start is part of a trend of shortened summer breaks in some pockets of the country. Susanna Capelouto of Georgia Public Broadcasting reports.
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A Georgia District's Schoolkids Are Back in Class

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A Georgia District's Schoolkids Are Back in Class

A Georgia District's Schoolkids Are Back in Class

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

It is the last day of July, and in Rockdale County, Georgia, today was the first day of school. While many children have weeks of vacation left this summer, some districts in Georgia and elsewhere are opening classroom doors sooner. Schools are under pressure to raise test scores and experts say a shorter break can help kids retain what they've learned.

But as Susanna Capelouto of Georgia Public Broadcasting reports, parents are split over whether that's worth sacrificing their children's summers.

SUSANNA CAPELOUTO reporting:

At Barksdale Elementary in Rockdale County, children show off their new braces and book bags as they greet friends and teachers in the hallway.

(Soundbite of excited crowd of children)

CAPELOUTO: Parent Kelly Nelson is glad that summer break is over.

Ms. KELLY NELSON (Parent): It's so hot outside that they can't really play outside anyway. And my - all three of mine are ready to go back.

CAPELOUTO: Second grader Jaelen Goldson(ph) is also ready for school, but she still wants to enjoy the summer.

Ms. JAELEN GOLDSON (Georgia second grader): Well, I might still get to play if I finish my homework fast.

CAPELOUTO: Rockdale County, about 20 miles east of Atlanta, is one of a handful of school systems in the state that are opening up in July. And an early August start date is now common in Georgia. The shortened summer is welcomed by Will Green, who says it prevents his son, Jamile(ph), from forgetting what he's learned.

Mr. WILL GREEN (Parent): It's good because it keeps in tact of what's going. They're not just forgetting about school, so it's pretty good. They got a little break, keep their mind focused. Doing the right thing.

CAPELOUTO: Avoiding the summer brain drain is one reason Rockdale County adopted a new school calendar. Their trade-off for the short summer are two week-long breaks throughout the year.

Craig Dowling is assistant superintendent for instruction at Rockdale County schools. He says the calendar gives students extra time to digest the material they've learned.

Mr. CRAIG DOWLING (Assistant Superintendent, Rockdale County School District): It really does give us an advantage because we are trying to pace the curriculum so we can get to the testing in the spring time, where our students are ready for the test.

CAPELOUTO: There are no definitive studies on whether shortened summers or year-round schools improve learning. But in Rockdale County, which has had short summers for three years, it seems to be working. For the first time this year, all schools in the system met federal testing requirements set out in the No Child Let Behind Act. But some parents say kids are being pushed too hard.

Mr. MATTHEW McCLAIRE(ph): A lot of things are driven by numbers and bottom lines. And these aren't test scores. These are children.

CAPELOUTO: Matthew McClaire is parent of a first grader and kindergartener at Palmer Stone Elementary in neighboring Newton County. School started there on Friday.

Mr. McCLEAR: They rooked them out of a whole month of summer. And when they're older, if they keep this, you know, up, they're going to miss out on, you know, one of the highlights of my kid life, and that was summertime. You knew Fourth of July came, you had half your summer left. And that's not the case anymore. Fourth of July comes, you've got to start going and buying your supplies. It's not - I don't like it.

CAPELOUTO: McClaire is not alone. There is a grassroots movement afoot around the country aimed at regaining summers, driven by parents who value family time and the tourism industry. Some states, like Texas, Florida and South Carolina, have passed laws mandating a late summer school start. Here, a group called Georgians Need Summers has tried unsuccessfully to pass a law, but its members have vowed to try again next year.

For NPR News, I'm Susanna Capelouto in Atlanta.

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