The semester is half over and children have been hard at work. They’ve earned more than a weekend’s respite. At least, that’s the feeling of the nine Alabama school districts, including Jefferson and Shelby County, that have included a fall break in their school calendar for this year.
It’s the third year for fall breaks in Jefferson County. School Superintendent Dr. Phil Hammonds sees it as a valuable part of the school calendar.
‘I think our view of the fall break is that it really is a chance to refresh yourself, recharge your batteries,’ said Hammonds.
Shelby County School Board Member Peg Hill agrees.
Said Hill, ‘When I was principal, I saw teachers becoming very stressed and tired during October, first of November, like they were trying to survive until Thanksgiving holidays. And I saw discipline problems in children increase like in September, October they began to increase a little bit’They just needed a break. They needed to get away from school and run, romp, have fun and I think that would definitely help lower discipline problems and help attendance.’
This is Shelby County’s first experience with a fall break and while it may be a time of rest and relaxation for some parents, other parents may not be able to take a vacation from work. Mary Parsons, Manager of Parent and Family Services at Childcare Resources in Birmingham, notes the particular challenge fall break may be to working parents.
Parsons observed, ‘We always know spring break is going to come and we make plans for it a lot of times to take a vacation or holiday. The fall break is a time that many parents just cannot be away from the office. So they have some very difficult decisions to make’especially if they’re in the position where they have to work and cannot take the time off to be with their children.’
Some working parents may find a local childcare facility or leave children with a friend or a relative. But some may choose to leave the children at home alone. There are no specific numbers for Alabama but it is estimated that nationwide nearly 14.3 million children are left at home alone after school. These same children may be left home alone for the break week. This worries Parsons.
She noted, ‘One of the things we have found from research over the years is that children under the age of nine are really not mature nor responsible enough to be left alone.’
Jefferson County Superintendent Hammonds is sensitive to working parents concerns. Both Jefferson and Shelby County are extending their after-school care programs to include the week of their fall break.
Hammonds explained, ‘The intent of this is certainly not to penalize any family of to make a situation unbearable for them. We’re here to serve our parents and their children’Overall, having a fall break has been well-received.’
Hammonds adds that Jefferson County Schools will soon be making their calendar for next year and parental input is welcomed and encouraged.
Shelby County’s fall break is this week and Jefferson County students are off next week. For WBHM, I’m Francesca Rosko.