In many schools (including ours), the official start of the academic year is referred to as Opening Day. It’s a time of excitement and hope, a perennial exercise in possibility. It’s the day on which everyone has the opportunity to take up the gift of a clean slate and begin to write the next part of the story.

To state the obvious, “opening” represents a status change, from “closed” (or perhaps “non-existent,” as in “grand” opening). But for a 21st-century school, that status is now more a matter of mindset than objective reality. We’re well past the time when schools emptied out and locked their doors for the summer. Whether because of the heat or the need for children’s hands on the farm, the school calendar of yore excluded summer.  It’s rather strange that today, even with those reasons no longer really in play, even with a clear understanding of how a three-month hiatus can compromise learning, the American school year remains virtually unchanged: still nine months, still fall, winter, and spring.

And yet, though we still “close” for the summer, we’re anything but empty and locked. Whether physically present or operating remotely, we’re here, processing the past year and preparing for the next. And while students may be away, their learning doesn’t stop. One example of this at our school is a long-standing practice of requiring students to engage in a program called Outside Reading (and writing). They’re held accountable for it because we know it works—we have decades of enthusiastic attestations from alumni as proof. But a program like Outside Reading doesn’t just build extraordinary skills; it also ensures that during breaks, our students maintain an active connection to their teachers and their school. This is greatly facilitated by current technologies that dissolve the limits of time and space, and allow so much to be shared. Once students are back on campus, such connection eases their transition back into the school year routine. As they travel through Opening Day, they’re simply passing from one stage into the next on the continuum that is their education and growth. 

 

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