Back to school, but not to the same old thing

For new kindergartners, some with a two-handed grip on their moms, it was a day of trepidation. For the more seasoned students, it was a joyous day of reuniting with friends and seeing who got the “cool” teachers. For many working parents, it was a day of great relief from the day-care burden. For anyone with kids in Malibu, the first day of school marked the unofficial end of summer.

“I’m so traumatized, I can’t believe it. In just 12 years, she’ll be gone,” said Wendy Keller, owner of Forthwrite Literary Agency and mother of first-grader Sophia. “Whatever you did during the summer, it isn’t enough when school starts again. No matter what you did, you’re always going to feel that you should have done more.”

This year, things were a bit different. For one, school started earlier than usual. As one mom put it, “It’s hard to think of school starting before the Chili Cook-Off.”

“They gypped us a week of summer,” said Dana Hartley, mother of first-grader Aimee. “We’re getting shortchanged here.”

But, as Webster Principal Phil Cott points out, it’s later than we think. “Labor Day came on the 7th, which is as late as Labor Day can be. Last year we started on the 4th, which is just three days short on the calendar.”

A week of vacation was taken away by state lawmakers, however. Last year, the state legislature decided that students must be offered 180 days of school each year. For the Santa Monica-Malibu district, that eliminates the traditional week off in February that’s jokingly referred to as the Malibu Ski Break.

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Hartley and others say they were hoping for more time off during the winter holidays to make up for the shortened summer vacation. According to Cott, the holiday break will be the usual two weeks, but the students may get to keep the week off in February for one more year. Districts may apply for a one-year waiver that would reinstate the February break for one year only. The Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education is expected to vote on it this month.

Another change resulted from the state’s mandate that kindergarten classes keep to the same 20-1 student-teacher ratio as grades 1-3. To accommodate the need for more classrooms, schools have had to offer more classes of mixed grades.

At the Point Dume Marine Science Center, two K-1 classes were offered and only one straight 1st grade. At Webster, there are three 1-2 combinations and only two regular first-grade classes. The combined classes have caused concern among parents. Cott says there is no need. “It’s a myth to think that if we put 20 third graders together they’d all be the same,” said Cott. “There are huge differences.” Cott said parents who have had children in combined classes are usually more comfortable with the idea. For the others, he said,”They just need to sit back and let a good teacher do the job.”

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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