It's smiles all round for teacher Melissa Guzzo and her students after school began Aug. 11.


It's smiles all round for teacher Melissa Guzzo and her students after school began Aug. 11.

August 25, 2014

More than 1,200 students returned to school early at three Catholic schools in downtown Edmonton.

Mother Teresa Elementary, St. Catherine Elementary/Junior High and St. Alphonsus Elementary/Junior High had students at their desks Aug. 11, the fourth year the trio of schools has run on a year-round calendar.

Dean Sullivan, principal at Mother Teresa School, said year-round schooling gives parents another choice for their children's education and reduces the concern of learning loss over a longer summer break.

"We are looking at providing program continuity for our kids so they don't have such a big break at the end of June. For example, June 30 was our last day of school, and now we're already back at it Aug. 11, so there's not a big break," said Sullivan.

The shorter holiday makes sense academically, he said, because "the students are not away from the books as long. Teachers find they don't have to spend time with their kids relearning things."

The inner city schools also have the highest population of students with English as a second language.

"A lot of our new Canadians are learning English, and they are still wrestling with the ins and outs of how to speak English. At home, they are speaking in their first language most of the time.


"Having two months off is a long time to be away from that English piece," said Sullivan.

Grade 6 student Dilwick Williams has been in Canada for about two months, emigrating here with his family from Jamaica in June. In this new setting, he is grateful for "new friends and kinder teachers."

Although it's only a five-week summer break, he does not have to wait long for more time off from school.

"They say that in October we get another two-week break," said Williams.

The three schools offering the year-round calendar balance their instructional days into four terms with vacation breaks between each of the terms. Sullivan said he likes the fact his holidays are spread out over the course of the year, something which adds to his mental wellness.

The three schools also take a two-week Christmas break, the same as other schools, and a two-week spring break in March. Two other days are taken as extra-long weekends.

Most schools have no operational days in July and August. Other Catholic schools in Edmonton return to class Sept. 2, after the Labour Day weekend. A handful of schools in other jurisdictions in the archdiocese return to class as early as Aug. 28.

St. Teresa has other perks that many schools lack, including a doctor on site, a social worker, food bank, clothing bank, breakfast and hot lunch programs, Environment Club and a new violin program. Big Brothers and Big Sisters and the Edmonton Inner City Children's Program have a presence in the school. The school also has a strong link to St. Thomas More Parish.

"We have all of those other pieces in this building that our parents appreciate their children starting earlier for, rather than waiting the full two months," said Sullivan.

Sullivan said the shorter summer break has no disadvantages.

"As a teacher, I felt that by early August, I was getting antsy. It's a lot of time to have off in the summer, and, as much as it's beautiful outside, October is beautiful too. Spring can be beautiful," said Sullivan.

The number of instructional days is the same for both the year-round calendar and the traditional calendar.

"For the most part, school is a safe haven for these kids. They want to come to school because they have everything that they need here," said Melissa Guzzo, a Grade 6 teacher at Mother Teresa.


Guzzo hears positive comments from students and parents about returning to school early. She asked her students if they enjoy returning to school earlier, and all seemed to prefer it.

"For me as an educator, when you get to that point where you're feeling kind of burnt out – boom, there's a break. I love it because the holidays are spread out a little bit more."