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Making the First Day of School a Holiday for Parents




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What does a First Day of School Holiday program look like?

How did such an idea develop?

What are some of the benefits of this program?

Were there other groups or businesses who supported or who did not support or who questioned the idea?

What costs and limits were involved?


Education and Kids

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One town in southwest Vermont has a new twist on the concept of "school holidays." Instead of a traditional school holiday for children, this year 124 employers provided employees with time off to attend a host of events in schools throughout the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union. According to Terry Ehrich, President of the First Day Foundation, "the idea is to bring the parental, family, community-involvement-in-education theme into sharper focus at the beginning of each school year. Our aim is to begin each school year with positive relationships between teachers, parents, and students, building momentum for a three-way partnership for learning through the rest of the school year" (T. Ehrich, personal communication, January 28, 1998).

In this Community Spotlight, Mr. Ehrich describes the First Day of School Holiday concept and responds to questions about the event.

What does a First Day of School Holiday program look like?

The basic concept of the First Day of School Holiday is to:

  • Let each school develop its own First Day of School program, celebration, or other activities.

  • Let each employer allow time off on the First Day of School (paid time would be wonderful; unpaid time or time to be made up beforehand or afterward would be helpful) to any parent or surrogate parent who has a child in a school that has developed a First Day of School program for parents. The time off need be no more than the time the school has allotted for the program, plus travel time as necessary.

While some First Day of School programs might run an hour or two, others might run all day and into the evening. In addition, the holiday, which Ehrich describes as "a celebration of the first day of your child's future," could range from loose activities to tightly organized programs.

A possible schedule might include:

  • A cavalcade of school buses and car-pool cars or vans picking up students and their parents to take them to school.

  • A pancake breakfast cooked and served by the Rotarians.

  • A parade through the neighborhoods near the school.

  • An assembly for students, parents, and staff ("from the most senior teacher to the most junior custodian").

  • Parent meetings with teachers.

  • Lunch served by another service organization.

  • An education fair or circus, field trips, or picnics in the afternoon.

  • An evening concert by school band and choral members, plus adult musicians from the community; and just after dusk—fireworks!

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How did such an idea develop?

While the First Day of School Holiday concept was tried out for the first time as a community activity on the First Day of School 1997 (late August in the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Schools), "our encouragement of parental involvement in education has been going for nearly 15 years," says Mr. Ehrich.

At the offices of Hemmings Motor News, where he is the publisher and editor, every staff member has been allowed two days off with pay (which may be taken in as many as eight sessions of as few as two hours each) to go to school with their children, attend parent-teacher conferences, be otherwise involved in their children’s education, or do volunteer work relating to the academic programs in their children’s schools (or in nearby schools if they have no children).

Ehrich identifies a number of components as the rationale for that policy:

  • Parental involvement in a child’s education is said to be the most accurate predictor of that child’s academic success—and everyone in our community benefits when children (tomorrow’s citizens) are better educated.

  • We believe that employees who come to work with unsolved personal problems on their minds are extremely unlikely to perform well at their jobs and are very likely to make mistakes that will irritate our customers and cost the company money in the long run. Therefore, we do what we can (within reason) to give employees the opportunities to deal with their personal lives in ways that allow them the satisfaction of successful problem solving. Employees then come to work prepared to focus clearly and competently on their jobs so that they can provide our customers the excellent service they deserve.

  • We believe that policies such as these help employees develop positive personal morale, and that in addition to improved performance, positive morale results in less staff turnover, saving the company the costs of unnecessarily frequent recruiting, hiring, and training.

  • In short, our goal is two-pronged: "a better functioning community in which to live and work and a better functioning, more profitable business."

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What are some of the benefits of this program?

According to Mr. Ehrich, the most significant benefit of the First Day of School Holiday was that "when the whole community came together in support of the school, students, and family involvement in education and learning, the parents of the children who often need the most help—the parents often most intimidated by the schools and least likely to feel that they can have any positive effect on their children’s education—were given the courage of ‘marching with the crowd’. In this way, they could become involved as members of a mutually supportive group, rather than feeling as though they would have to make any effort towards involvement alone (a daunting prospect for those who may not have done all that well in school themselves, during their youth)."

Other benefits include:

  • Parents meeting parents of their children’s classmates and forming informal parent support groups.

  • Parents demonstrating to their children their support of their learning and the importance they place on it.

  • Enhanced employer/employee relationships when employers make it clear that they take employees’ personal lives seriously.

  • Membership recruiting opportunities for PTAs and opportunities for other community members to show their appreciation for parental, family, and community support.

  • Opportunities for school administrators and school boards to show school programs to their communities and to show school needs as well.

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Were there other groups or businesses who supported or who did not support or who questioned the idea?

Although some businesses took more persuasion than others, eventually 124 southwest Vermont employers jumped on the bandwagon, agreeing to allow time off for parents or their staff on the First Day of School. Mr. Ehrich notes, however, that each employer made his or her own choices of how much time would be allowed (anywhere from a couple of hours to the whole day) and whether such time off would be paid time or time to be made up.

School administrators (the superintendent and most of the principals) accepted the idea quickly and (for the most part) enthusiastically. Some of the teachers were initially skeptical of the idea, feeling that "their" first day with their students was being taken away from them. However, after the actual First Day of School itself, almost all teachers were very positive about the experience. According to Mr. Ehrich, "not only did they appreciate the clear support of the community, but it was a new experience to many of them to have so many parents in the school with such positive attitudes (a welcome change from the unfortunately frequent pattern of teachers not getting to meet parents until some sort of trouble has surfaced)."

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What costs and limits were involved?

The costs were practically nothing. The schools essentially did only what they usually do anyway, and such extras as picnics tended to be potluck. Employers’ costs ranged from nothing beyond the minimal cost of rescheduling to cover brief absences of a few employees at the low end to paying a few hours of "benefit wages" at the high end. "A couple of my staff and I put in about 50 hours over three months writing letters, making phone calls, and writing press releases."

"Limits? As long as we don’t break laws, I can’t think of any limits."

Terry Ehrich is the President of First Day Foundation as well as the Publisher and Editor of Hemmings Motor News.

For more information on the First Day of School Holiday concept, contact:

First Day Foundation
P.O. Box 10
Bennington, VT 05201
Telephone: 802-447-9625
Internet: http://www.firstday.org

For more information on parent and community involvement in education, contact:

National Parent Information Network

Partnership for Family Involvement in Education

"America Goes Back to School" Initiative of the U.S. Department of Education

Alliance for Parental Involvement in Education

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Prepared for Parent News by Dawn Ramsburg

Published monthly by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Children's Research Center, 51 Gerty Drive, Champaign, IL 61820-7469. This publication was funded by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under contract no. DERR93002007. Opinions expressed in this magazine do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the Department of Education.

NPIN Coordinator and Parent News Editor: Anne Robertson
Production Editor: Emily S. Van Hyning

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