Before my son became a kindergartner at Saltonstall, I had concerns about the real impact that expanded learning time would have on my children. Will they be overwhelmed, exhausted and begin to dislike school? What will happen to their afternoon free time for participating in activities or play? I can certainly understand the mixed feelings many have about Mayor Kim Driscoll’s proposal to expand learning time in Salem’s schools.
In considering my children’s best interests, I had multiple conversations with other parents and teachers about expanded learning time. The community meeting in January affirmed my belief that this is a great opportunity. Although my husband and I actively educate our children at home, we expect that time at school should be effective, stimulating and enriching. We choose to raise our family in Salem because it is a strong community with rich history, culture and diversity. Unfortunately, it has become clear that our school system needs further strengthening.
Extended learning time allows for a more balanced curriculum by providing more exposure to history, science, civics, art and music. Although the No Child Left Behind law is well-intentioned, it has forced schools to focus on math and English, reducing time for other valuable subjects. I won’t deny the importance of knowing and applying these fundamental skills. However, I want to be sure that my children can develop into well-rounded citizens who are able to think freely and critically as individuals and members of collaborative teams.
The traditional schedule of roughly 180 six-hour days prepared me adequately for college and the workforce. But the skills required of today’s adults have changed greatly. America has fallen behind many industrial countries in most educational parameters. Even districts with well-performing educational systems must fight to keep up as these countries continue to improve at faster rates. Twenty-first-century careers require both a greater depth of knowledge in specific areas and breadth of general knowledge for how each job fits into the global ecosystem. Complex problem-solving skills, advanced technical knowledge and cultural understanding are some of the factors critical to success. It is impossible to meet these demands using the same educational parameters established decades ago.