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Our View: Get involved in local education as classes restart

Our View: Get involved in local education as classes restart
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School bells are ringing again.

That’s hard to believe for those of us raised in communities that waited until after Labor Day to send students back to school.

But here we are in the first full week of August and most students in the Flagstaff region are heading back to class this week – Flagstaff Unified School District officially restarts on Thursday.

The reason for the early start in part is because educators want to get in a full semester, plus exams, before the two-week holiday break in late December. That allows for a fresh start on new material in January without the need for review – or homework over the holidays.

And most families can start school earlier because they are no longer tied to late-summer harvests or other rhythms of the land that sometimes needed all hands in the fields. Child labor has also largely disappeared, so the main impediment to starting school in early August rests with late family vacations, summer jobs for high schoolers and, in a college town, new faculty who aren’t required to report to NAU until late August.

Two FUSD schools, Killip and Leupp, return three weeks earlier after just a six-week break — parents have said they don’t see more time off in the summer being used as productively as being in class.

But parents elsewhere have not embraced the modified year-round calendar, with many saying the 9-week summer break is still short to reconnect with their children after the busy school year. And were only FUSD to go year-round, families with children in both FUSD and charters would be on split schedules.

Further, each year since starting in early August, FUSD waits on these late arrivals before deciding whether to split large classrooms into two or shift teachers between schools. It’s not as efficient as a mass, unified start, and moving it up would likely create longer waits for enrollment to top off.

So there are plenty of reasons to object to modified, year-round calendars. But it has been several years and a different FUSD board since the question was formally put to a task force. We’d suggest reopening the issue again this year – if even one more school site council backs the change, that’s another group of parents whose choices are being recognized.

In the meantime, some 10,000 area K-12 students will be back on the road this week to and from school, either by bus, car, bike or walking. With many students now biking on sidewalks and the FUTS, local drivers who have gotten out of the habit over the summer of looking to their right before making a right-hand turn onto a busy street need to take a refresher course. Those cyclists have the right of way when crossing the intersection, and police say failure to yield by drivers is one of the most common causes of serious accidents involving cyclists. (And don’t forget the mandatory stop for school buses with flashing red lights, even those in the opposite lane on a nondivided highway.)

On the other side, parents should insist that their biking children wear helmets at all times – it’s the law. If children are taking a bus, don’t be rowdy and never distract the driver. And if you are being picked up from school, wait for your ride to arrive at the curb instead of jumping into the road. Those might seem like obvious safety tips, but children aren’t reading this column – it’s up to the adults in their lives to help keep them safe.

And what about adults who don’t have children but want to contribute to the success of students and their schools? We’d suggest first contacting a school directly for information on volunteer opportunities. And the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce matches businesses and their employees with schools and their programs. Or check out the foster grandparent program through the NAU Civic Institute – it matches adults over 55 with students in need of tutoring help or other school-related issues.

We have said it before but it bears repeating that public education, especially in Arizona, really is a community responsibility. Were we to just look at Flagstaff’s schools through the lens of state subsidies and local budgets compared with other states, it would be a discouraging view indeed. But Flagstaff more than most Arizona communities has embraced not only an expansive vision of education beyond four school walls but also the social and physical well-being of its children. Support groups and special interest programs, from the YMCA to churches and the Family Food Center, create a child-centered network that we hope parents will tap when the need arises.

Schools provide a focus to a child’s day, but teachers can’t do it alone. Getting involved in education means becoming an engaged citizen of Flagstaff and nearby communities. Don’t let this school year go by without doing your civic duty.

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