Following the transition from a relaxing summer into a new school year, first semester can often be tiring. There are approximately 14 1/2 weeks of school between the first day of school and Thanksgiving break with only 3 days off. Students and staff have only two full days off for Thanksgiving, with finals week a mere three weeks afterwards. As a result, some students, including junior Devasha Trivedi, find it difficult to maintain stamina both in and out of school.
“You’re coming back from this long chunk of time where you haven’t attended school and then all of a sudden you have to go for [many]weeks without a proper break,” Trivedi said. “It’s difficult getting into that routine. I feel like I’m just so mentally tired because there’s so much school.”
A potential solution for alleviating student and staff stress might be to institute a longer fall break during first semester. However, according to principal April Scott, there are a number of aspects that go into determining school holidays, including meeting California’s required instructional days and balancing the length of each semester.
“When we start school, the number of days first semester needs to be enough so that the number of instructional days are met [in second semester],” Scott said. “Thanksgiving break, traditionally in our district, has just been the Thursday and Friday, so there is no discussion from the teacher’s union as far as having the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off as well.”
The teacher’s union works with the district office to determine the calendar. According to math teacher Jon Stark, chairman of the union’s negotiations team, the community expressed a desire to move first semester final exams from January to mid-December.
“When people returned [from winter break], they had some study and prep time, and then took the final exams. Then, they got a Monday off and came back, starting the new semester in January,” Stark said. “That was perceived to be stressful, so there was a push to move exams prior to the holiday break.”
Due to this change, there are fewer days in first semester than in the second semester.
In response to some student opinions regarding the shorter Thanksgiving break, Stark added that some people generally prefer having a longer summer vacation and a shorter fall break. Adjustments are certainly possible, but the teachers union would have to take into consideration how early the semester would have to start in order to finish the first half of the curriculum before the holiday season.
However, sophomore Elena Chen feels that the length of Thanksgiving break is not adequate for students because of its proximity to the final exams.
“From having a week of break in elementary school and middle school, I’m used to having a long week off to spend time with family,” Chen said. “Also, because Thanksgiving is close to finals, students rely on the Thanksgiving break to start preparing for finals or take a break before the hectic finals schedule.”
While adjustments are possible if students prefer having a longer recess, some students like junior Benjamin Bedregal are content with the current two-day Thanksgiving break.
“[The lack of a longer break] is very beneficial to me even though I don’t like it because it just keeps me on track of things,” Bedregal said. “Whenever there’s a three-day weekend or something, I completely slack off that entire week.”
Despite students’ feelings towards the school breaks, the teacher’s union and district office must balance the number of instructional days in the first and second semester. Because of standardized testing second semester, students are not in class for several days. As a result, it can be challenging for teachers who have to teach semester-long AP classes.
“[In past years], it was especially bad for some of the semester-long courses,” Stark said. “If you took a course in spring, you would take it for 101 days. If you took it in fall, you would get 79. It was kind of awkward. That’s why we started as early in August as we do. It’s to get 84 days in the fall [so]we would have 96 in the spring [to accommodate for testing].”
Trivedi hopes the teacher’s union and the district administration will consider methods to decrease the marathon-like feel to first semester for her and other students.
“Even though second semester is a lot harder academically, I feel it’s a lot easier for me mentally because there [are]more breaks from school,” Trivedi said. “I can just spend more time with my family and I don’t have to sacrifice my sleep as much.”