First Day of School, 2008

It’s the first day of fourth grade, which means Athena is officially in Judy Blume territory. Athena says “I’m very excited about the first day of school, although by the third day, I’ll be dreading it,” which I think fairly well encapsulates the American educational experience. But we’ll do what we can on this end to keep her interested.

I still think it’s wrong, incidentally, to start school before Labor Day. But they never ask me about that.

62 Comments on “First Day of School, 2008”

  1. At the risk of getting too personal, are you mostly satisfied with the school Athena is going to? God knows there is no shortage of people on the internet who aren’t happy with their local schools.

  2. 4th grade was awesome. Also, it’s cute that your cat is there to see her off, too. Is that Lopsided cat or the other hairy one (I can’t spell the name because I am lame)?

    Good luck to Athena!

  3. For some reason, I read this as Athena was going to Judy Blume Elementary. Which made me go, Whoa, headtrip. (It would be like going to John Hughes High School.) But then I re-read and was slightly disappointed.

  4. Re Mary@3: The problem solves itself. You start out with shiney white sneakers on the first day, and by Labor Day weekend they aren’t really white any more.

  5. In case you didn’t know, Michigan actually made it a law a couple years ago that schools can’t start (public ones, anyway) until after Labor Day. It had to do with complaints from the tourism industry that starting schools before cut into the Labor Day travel.

  6. I agree with you on the first day of school. But my wife teaches high school English. Guess what HER first day of school was, down here in GA? JULY 28th! That’s just wrong, back to school in July. Granted, the kids didn’t show up until a week later, but still. School in July? That’s downright double-plus-ungood.

  7. M. & R. start school tomorrow, on M.’s birthday. However, M. had great teachers in both kindergarten and first grade and loves school. We’ll see if she can keep up the streak.

    R. isn’t so thrilled with school, but of course by the time you hit fifth grade, they make you work. Plus, in kindergarten, she had a series of substitutes since her teacher was pregnant. She had another pregnant teacher in first grade, replaced by a new teacher, her second grade teacher had moved up from first grade with the kids and was new to the curriculum, and her fourth grade teacher had just moved down from fifth grade and was new to the curriculum, so R.’s teacher experience hasn’t been as good as M’s.

  8. I start today, too!!!
    But generally, the earlier you start, the earlier you get out. For example, my last week of school (finals week!) is the first week in May!!!
    I also get a substantial winter/spring break, so no complaints from me =)

  9. My daughter starts sixth grade – middle school – tomorrow. On the one hand, I think those were the years when a my long-term friendships really started, but on the other, man, middle school is when kids are at their absolute WORST from a social standpoint.

    Also, having grown up in Ohio and started school before Labor Day 11 out of 12 years, I offer this: There’s something to be said for having a holiday just a week into the school year. The one year we started after, it was something like six weeks until Columbus day, and we all hated it.

  10. I remember grade Iv; best teacher ever. She was an old school nun and taught me that reading was important; the lesson stuck and was probably the most important lesson in all of grade school.

    In terms of when school starts, I a firm believer in year round schooling until high school. Basically the summer vacation is a hold over from the days that we were a mostly agrarian society and we needed the kids to work on the farm. Those days are over. We are a mostly urban/suburban society. Keep kids in school during the summer months and have them learn stuff.

    These days, school has a secondary purpose of providing a place for kids to be while both parents are working. You really see this in the labour participation rate of women with kids under 5 and over 5; in Canada it is about 20% difference (roughly 50% vs 70%). While there are numerous exceptions (like our host) the sad reality is that the child rearing work falls disproportionately on mom’s. Having school year round, provides year round child care for working families.

    Why do I think that year round schooling should stop at high school. I actually believe that having summer jobs teaches kids lots. I know I learned alot of stuff while working in the summer during my high school years. I learned some of the technical things in my jobs that remain useful. I can set a table because I spent a summer as a busboy. I know lots about produce because I spent two summers selling the stuff at a roadside fruit stand. I also learned about work, the value of work and the value of getting paid to do work; these are lessons that should be learned earlier rather than later. These lessons can’t be learned if kids had to choose between a summer job and going to school.

    This won’t happen for a few reasons.

    1) Teacher opposition.

    There are lots of bits of teaching that are really bad. It is one of the lowest paid professions (only Nurses get less; draw your own conclusions). There is no flexibility in terms of days and hours worked; if school is in session you have to teach. You also have to deal with lots of kids, and their parents.

    One thing that is really nice about teaching; approximately 8 weeks off in the summer.

    My suspicion is that year round teaching won’t go over well with teachers because it won’t any of the problems with teaching, but will take away one of the perqs of teaching. If I were a teacher, I know that I would not be keen on this.

    2) Family values opposition

    My label sucks, but if one of the reasons for year round school is to assist working families, the usual suspects will be opposed to this because they are opposed to women working.

    You know this to be true.

    In case any of you are wondering, I am not a parent, so my ideas may be completely insane; I recognize that.


    P.S. If there were a summer vacation I do agree that it should end no sooner than labour day.


  11. Today is Start The College Scholarship Search Day. School’s been back in session since last week.

    Have fun, Athena.

  12. My wife hates it that school starts right before labor day because the early vacation means that first week is wasted from an educational view point.

    Here’s hoping Athena has a great fourth-grade experience. She has that, “Oh Father, I’ll smile for the camera if you hide behind the bushes by the time the bus shows up” look. Is there anything more exciting (at least at that age) than fresh composition notebooks and pencils? I’m sure there is but I still get an electric thrill when I see them in stores.

    And sure, cats are there to send you off in the morning, but are they waiting at the bus stop when you get home? No, usually they are still napping. Silly cats.

  13. Jbooth: As the mother of an 8th grade girl (well, next week she will be) I have to say that a lot of the schools have really gone out of their way to make middle school a resoundingly better experience than the one we had. Their whole “small schools within a school” and “teams” approach has been fabulous. (I know not all schools are doing this, but it seems to be catching on) My daughter spends all of her academic classes with the same group of kids all day and it fosters a lot of closer friendships and “team spirit” and I am convinced my 13 year old has not only her own share of self-esteem, but all the self-esteem I DIDN’T have at that age.

    I also totally encourage kids to get involved in band. Yes, you are a “band geek”, but B’s band friends are some of her closest friends. They band (hah!) together like nobody’s business.

    I am constantly amazed at the wonderfully positive middle school experience my daughter is having.

  14. In Michigan, they were allowing school to start before Labor Day – until they realized that tourist traffic was dropping over Labor Day weekend. The governor promptly enacted a rule that says Michigan schools can’t start until after Labor Day. You could move here.

  15. I think that shorter summer breaks would be great. I think that the kids really need some extended time off to relax and play, and to forget the crazy notions that adults keep trying to cram into their heads. But the break is too long. Like most parents, I hate dealing with the “I’m boooorrrred” whine. Shorten the summer holidays, and lengthen the winter and spring holidays. It would be great!

    Many of our children live such tightly scheduled lives during the school year, I think it teaches them other valuable lessons to have that big expanse of unscheduled time.

  16. That’s nuts. Is it because of farming or something? Weird. We don’t start until Sept.4th, which means I have to entertain a kid for a week and a half. Unjust!

  17. I see several people have already commented on Georgia schools starting as early as the last week of July. Ick…

    I think the Atlanta area schools just passed something that will “delay” the start of school next year until at least the 3rd full week of August, some to little too late lame attempt to lower high air conditioning costs, which they claim will help their budgets and show they are promoting “green” thinnking.

    AHHHH, just go back to the week after Labor Day. Never hurt any of us.

    And to the comment on still getting thrill when the new school supplies hit the stores…I wait for them and stock up my home office for the whole year…cooler colors and better gadgets.

  18. Angie @ 19.

    Yay for band geeks! And yay for 4’th grade. This was the first grade you could play an instrument besides that cheap plastic recorder everyone started with; as an adult you can see the wisdom because it quickly and cheaply weeds out those who will stick with it and play music versus those who won’t.

    All the best to Athena. Remember to treat anything they tell you with healthy skepticism and a critical eye for what they’re teaching and why.

  19. “I still think it’s wrong, incidentally, to start school before Labor Day. But they never ask me about that.”

    It sounds like you need to run for school board. I know a certain blog community that would be happy to make your campaign posters :-)

  20. I start my second year of law school tomorrow. I can totally sympathize with that look of resigned despair.

    Students never actually get any wiser. The books just get bigger and more numerous.

  21. Wendy B, I’ve always wondered about the electricity bills here in Tuscaloosa. My sister started on August 7th and will get out in early May. It’s effin’ hot in Alabama in August, much more so than in May. It seems to me that the school systems could save a lot of money starting after Labor day and stay in through June.

    I had one person, originally from upstate NY, explain the early start by saying that in NY August was lovely and no one wanted to be inside but in Alabama August is horrible so why not be in school. Where I grew up August is pretty icky (there’s a reason Congress take the month off) and we didn’t start until the day after Labor day (my early elementary years we started the last week of August). Of course that might have partially be because everyone wants to go on vacation in August because DC is icky.

  22. Oh, John, is swimming still part of the elementary PE curriculum in Ohio? My parents lived outside Dayton for a while (me too, for 6 months) and my Mom thought that was a great policy. I want to say it was taught in 4th grade but I’m really not sure.

  23. My kids started back today, too. They always start at least one week before Labor Day, and sometimes two. The worst part seems to be that none of the schools are air-conditioned, and the forecast for today? 100 degrees. The school district is working on getting AC into all the schools, but it’s been slow going due to the expense.

  24. Up here in Canada school has always started the day after Labour Day.

    I take it Athena does not walk to school or ride her bike?

  25. Echoing the hooray for band geeks sentiments, with the caveat that it applies only if there’s a good band director. Both our kids started band in 4th grade (the earliest it is offered in our school district) — and both quit by fifth grade because their band directors (two different elementary school band directors) were lousy. Critical, overly demanding, not encouraging, all the things that are guaranteed to totally turn off a kid to music.

    Fortunately, the middle school band director is amazing — young, enthusiastic, relates to the kids, brings out the best in them — and we had friends with a child a year ahead of our older child, who told us to make sure he gave middle school band a shot because the band director was so awesome. She is, he did, and three years later, he lives for band. (Now he’s going to high school, which is a whole new world — starting with eight hours a day of marching band camp this week…)

    As to the school calendar, I did two years of high school in South Africa, and kind of liked the schedule there: start in mid-January and run until mid-April, then have a two week break around Easter. Resume at the beginning of May and run until early July, then have a four week winter break until mid-August. Start again in mid-August and continue until the beginning of December, and have about a four week summer break. The four week break was long enough that it felt like a vacation, and if you wanted to travel you had enough time to do so, but not so long that you spend the first three weeks of school getting back up to speed in being at school.

  26. Here in Colorado, we’re mandated to have a certain number of contact days with the kids each year, and then we add in a number of buffer days in case of inclement weather.

    That said, our kids started on the 14th of August – a Thursday. Crazy, you’d think, but after two days, both the teachers and the kids are ready for a break. It’s a nice way to ease in, and in two days you can usually get the kids back into the swing of school and get the rules and norms covered without ruining a full week. Then there’s a much needed break, and then two full weeks with the kids and then a three day weekend. Then it’s heads down until Thanksgiving, aside from a few professional development days and the like.

    My wife teaches third grade, and I work in the district tech office, and we in the tech office balk at year-round education more than she does. She lives by the motto “what’s best for the kids” and knows that year-round means less time for them to forget what they’ve learned. We in the district offices, however, pale at the thought of not having two months during the year during which our customers are off doing something else so that we can get all the maintenance done.

  27. Ah, fourth grade, back when advanced math was multiplying two two-digit numbers. Learning the sign language alphabet to speak in secret code. Holding hands with Patrick in a darkened auditorium while we both pretended we were asleep. Singing as the middle Andrews Sister in the school musical. That was also the year someone informed me, when I complained, that I should appreciate how easy my life was. So I did.

    May Athena’s year be just as great, as memorable, and as easy.

  28. O Great Scalzi, how nice to see 4 or 5 pixels that might possibly be Mighty Lopsided Cat; however, this is a poor entry for the Seal of Approval Award. The Executive Committee of The Official Ghlaghghee Fan Club offers the following constructive criticisms:

    1. Mighty Lopsided Cat is not in focus – we have discussed this issue with you before – and is not centered in the frame.

    2. Mighty He is not filling enough of the frame.

    3. The Beauteous Ghlaghghee is nowhere to be seen. How can you be awarded the coveted Seal of Approval Award and not have Her Glorious Shimmering Radiant Perfection at least somewhere in the picture?

    4. While it is acceptable to have Athena in the frame, she must not be the center of attention – rather, she should be paying attention to the center of attention, namely Magnificent She, Mighty Lopsided Cat, or TempCat Zeus.

    On the plus side, Anteater-Thing is completely absent. Well done. At least you took one suggestion to heart.

    The Official Ghlaghghee Fan Club

  29. Re: the Judy Blume School.

    This brings two fictional schools to mind. In the otherwise inferior movie High School High, the action takes place at Marion Berry High School: named after the crack-smoking former mayor of Washington, DC.

    Also, the Mary Bell Memorial Preschool makes an appearance here:

    I looked up who Mary Bell was, and suffice to say that they will probably never name a school after her in real life.

  30. No matter where I lived, it seemed that the first day of school was always the week before Labor Day and *always* on my birthday or a few days before. Double-suck-whammy of school and no birthday day off! But, because of this, I was 16 the first week of senior year of high school and felt like an extra-special smartypants as a result :)

  31. Did you drop a word, or did she really say “I’ll dreading it”? (Normally, I’d assume typo, but perhaps she verbed a garund.)

  32. That’s a nice picture. Good composition. I’m always amazed by the level of sophistication and wit that Athena exhibits… I’ve been suspicious before that you ‘edit or paraphrase’ her comments, but I’ve since decided she’s just has intelligent, literate examples parents and it is rubbing off. She’s a lucky girl. :) By the way, saw you in Ann Arbor… for a few minutes at least. I was in back with my son who suddenly decided to get chatty so we left before he got disruptive.

  33. School in New York State started after Labor Day, occasionally on my birthday, when Wendy_B and I were kids. Moving to Greensboro NC in the early 70s, high school began in mid-August. Given there was no AC in the schools then, this was absurd and stupid. All we did was sweat and breathe fresh paint fumes.

    The real winner was in 2003 when my university started classes on a Friday — of Labor Day weekend. Who the hell did they think was going to show up for one day of class before a holiday weekend? I didn’t — I was in Helsinki on the other side of the pond and so videotaped my first day lectures before I left. Students were amazed that (a) a professor would go to all the trouble instead of just having a grad student hand out the syllabus and (b) that I actually lectured the first day. Always reward those who show up. (evil grin)

    As for the cat — cat sees all this commotion and heads outside following the silly humans, just in case food is involved. Seeing it not, the cat will not return in the afternoon and wait around. However, next morning, said cat will remember it followed the silly humans outside and will try it again. Like the Doorway Into Summer, cats are eternal optimists, but bank up on extra sleep just in case. (grin)

    Dr. Phil

  34. marciepooh @ 27 –
    I too originated from upstate NY, from the middle of the Buffalo-Rochester dual-lake effect snow belt to be specific, and later on just north of NYC. We started school either the Tuesday or Wednesday after Labor Day and school lasted until mid-late June. Schools had to worry more about heating costs than cooling costs, and I don’t think the schools even had A/C, we were allowed to open the windows on warm spring days.

    Due to the climatary concerns, a pretty whopping load of snow days were added into the schedule, a couple of years those weren’t enough and they threatened to cut one or two of the holidays out, but cancelled teacher workdays instead. The summer camp I went to for several years usually started around July 1 and lasted 8 weeks to accomodate the local school schedules.

    August in the south is hot, humid, and better spent on a beach or up in the mountains! August up north is sometimes hot, but usually warm with cool nights, great time to head to the lake or beach and not fry. Was in Buffalo in August 2001 for a convention, remembered to bring light jackets and sweaters, my fellow southern attendees that didn’t believe the 2 of us from WNY when we recommended they do the same, and they spent a fortune on jackets and sweaters while we were there. My friend Karon & I were of course, properly prepared.
    but I digress

    As for the insanity here in the south to start schools progressively earlier, I really don’t understand about that. A couple of schools here in Atlanta had a/c systems fail last year and they had to send kids home. I have friends over in Alabama from Livingston to Birmingham and points inbetween, and it’s frequently hotter over there than it is here in August. It seems southern colleges start ealier now too, heaven forbid class schedules should mess with the sacred football schedules!! (I know, I know, I shouldn’t mess with them either…)

    But then again, they didn’t ask us.

  35. How funny that my brother and I were both responding to marcipooh at the exact same moment in time!

  36. Angie: Yeah, our middle school is arranged a little differently these days, too.

    I’m also now remembering that when I was in fourth grade our elementary held a contest during some kind of “encouraging reading week” to rename the school in honor of a favorite author. For a week, I walked the hall beneath the “Judy Blume Elementary School” banner and muttered nerdcurses because my teacher had refused to even put Tolkien on the ballot.

  37. Excellent picture. John, your daughter is a good-looking lady. Hope all is well…and yes, starting school just before Labor Day is not cool.


  38. Texas schools have six-week marking periods, three per semester. (Some schools have experimented with two nine-week periods, but the effect is the same.) If you want to have finals before the winter break — and, speaking as a former teacher, you DO want to have finals before the winter break — then you have to find 18 weeks in the schedule between the start of school and the middle of December. This is impossible, short of activating the Escher Bridge, without dipping at least a week into August. This also means that schools usually finish a week or so before the end of May.

    When I was in high school, we DID have finals after the winter break, and it royally sucked. Spent a good portion of the week between Christmas and New Year’s studying, rather than relaxing and enjoying what laughingly passes for winter down here. (Um, OK, I probably should have spent most of that time studying, but I’m smart enough and arrogant enough that I was pretty sure the teachers wouldn’t write a test hard enough that I needed to study much for it. This came back to bite me a couple of times.) My graduation was June 1, and it was a slightly early one.

    There was a time when school was starting to creep into the middle of August, with more fall holidays and workdays, but that was so universally hated that I think most districts abandoned that idea.

  39. I agree on the starting date. My son started today, will go three days, then have two off for the fair and rodeo, then add in saturday, sunday and monday, and what was the point again of having him start today? Hmmm.

    Now the college also starts today, but I think it does that to get everyone in town for the big weekend.

  40. Now, the question is – do your semesters end before Christmas? When we started after Labor Day, we had a week + off for Christmas, then had to return to class for a week before taking semester exams. There may be a trade-off, trying to finish things up before starting a new session after the holidays.

    Of course, when I was a teacher, I taught in Virginia, which had (maybe still has) what we called the King’s Dominion Law, which stated that you couldn’t start school until after Labor Day, unless you could prove that you would have more than 10 snow days.

  41. As mentioned earlier, when I lived in Western PA, the rumor was that school had to start early enough to squeeze in a few extra football games (first day was probably last Thursday, actually). I suspect that rumor was probably true…football pretty much runs everything up there.

    Here in our slice of suburban DC, the start date is Sept 2. As we drove home through the neighborhoods, there were quite a number of kids just walking or playing in the middle of the road which, around here, is even more dangerous that it sounds. It was as if the children were grasping to the chance of getting run over before having to go back to school.

    Alas, I swerved and missed them, much to their dismay…but driving is going to be tough this week.

  42. Here in New Mexico, the district my mom teaches at had the kids start back Aug 11, some districts started the week before then and others the week after. For college my first day back this semester was Aug 2, a thursday, which is weird, usually the university has the first day of classes on a wed, give everyone a half week to get back into the swing of things.

    Weather wise temps have been hitting mid-upper 90’s with the humidity all over the place due to our monsoon season.

  43. In Western PA school started today for most schools. I know, I drive to work in Pittsburgh and there were young people at bus stops and big yellow vehicles on the roads tying up traffic. :-)

    In similar news, my daughter started her final term in college today. I think she would still say the same thing as Athena.

  44. Has anybody mentioned that the early start to the school year is, in many cases, a side effect of No Child Left Behind? The school year in Georgia, I understand, starts earlier so that they have more time to prepare before the standardized testing. Another reason I hate NCLB.

  45. aahh, Hope @56: considering the number of kids that had to unexpectedly attend summer school here in Georgia in order to retake their mandatory 8th grade math progress tests, I guess we all know how well NCLB is working in this state!!

    Seems no one bothered to teach the teachers what they needed to know in order to teach the children what they would need to know in order to pass their tests. Threw out the failing Social Studies test for the same group for the same reason, but decided they all had to retake the math test. Apparently more kids failed the social studies test than the math test!

    The state blamed it on teachers not being familiar with the new curriculum for the new tests.

    Oh, and the state knew it was expecting a higher than normal failure rate on the new tests…Looks like the only one’s benefitting from the standardized tests in Georgia are the people creating the standardized tests…

    Hey, I’ve got an idea – instead of sending millions of dollars in aid to that other Georgia, send some of it here to THIS Georgia to fix the problems the NCLB has caused!!

  46. I grew up in south Louisiana. I think it’s weird to start school after Labor Day and to still be in school in June. I also find it surprising that most states don’t give a full week week off at Thanksgiving (the LA teacher’s union used to meet at the beginning of that week so no teachers) and don’t give spring break to coincide with Easter week beause for me that’s the way things were until I started moving around anf found out differently. I do not find it odd that nobody else gets off for Mardi Gras though. We knew the rest of the US didn’t celebrate it.

  47. Wendy B @ 57

    For a million years, since the dawn of time, sixth graders in Ohio have studied ancient civilizations–Sumer, Egypt, India, China, Greece and Rome. Guess how many questions on the standardized social studies test dealt with these topics? None. Goose-egg. So they dropped everything but Egypt, Greece and Rome, and stuffed a section on US Government into the middle of the year. They re-take Government in Middle and High School. Most of them never see anything about China.

  48. Here in Michigan, it’s the LAW that kids can’t go to school before labor day. How about that, eh? I like it. As to school time invading summer vacation, I think we all know what the problem is. Midwinter break! Whose idiotic idea was that? I hate midwinter break. It is ONLY fun if you can afford to travel somewhere warm. Otherwise it’s just a week of wasted time, more often than not stuck inside because of horrible weather outside. Down with midwinter break! Boo!

    My son has zero enthusiasm for starting school, even the first day.

  49. @52 and 55:
    Don’t forget, in western PA, we NEED to have the Monday after Thanksgiving off, for the first day of deer huntin’ season.

  50. Hope @ #59 – I’d like to believe that after the Olympic performance China showed the world for the last few weeks, China will be added to curriculums everywhere!

    I suppose most states have even dropped the requirement that their own state history be taught at some point. I seem to remember New York state history was mandated in Jr. High when I was a kid. Which was ok, because the class trip was an overnight to a state historical site of some sort. We did Cooperstown historical restorations, and the Baseball Hall of Fame. Pretty cool for a bunch of 7th graders. Long ride though.

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