Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Dog Days of Summer

Whatever Happened to August? That’s the title of an August 17 WSJ article, and I find it an apt question.  I lived in New York until the eighth grade, and our school year always began after Labor Day and ended sometime in June.  I always thought it odd that we began in August in Georgia. This year, most metro Atlanta schools started August 5, Tennessee schools August 7, and Florida and Alabama schools August 19. 

What’s up with that?  Even when I taught school many years ago in Georgia, the teachers may have returned in mid-August, but the kids didn't.  In the Northeast, in contrast, Labor Day was the last big holiday weekend and heralded the end of summer. The start of school the Monday after Labor Day made the end official.  If you start school in early August, however, your summer is long gone by Labor Day. 

I’ve always wondered why southern school districts choose to send kids back to school in the dog days of summer, the hottest month of the season for most parts of the south.  Why spend the money on air conditioning on days that are typically in the 90’s when you could reduce your AC bills by starting in September, when the temperatures begin to dip into the 80’s and even the 70’s?  This seemed a legitimate consideration even before the recession began back in 2008, when school boards became strapped for funds. 

I kept thinking school was starting earlier and earlier, but wondered if it was just my faulty memory—until I read the WSJ article, that is.  The author recalls beginning “college classes on Sept. 25, 1972” and points out that “this year freshmen at Rice University reported to campus 43 days earlier than that—on Aug. 12. (Average Houston humidity on that date: 95%.)” 

I wondered whether northeast schools were also starting earlier, so I googled the public school calendar for NYC.  It’s nice to know things haven’t changed: school in NYC starts September 9—after Labor Day--and runs through June 26.   

I’d never considered the other impacts of school starting earlier and earlier.  Apparently, pools are open fewer hours, and summer camps close up earlier for the season. “Reliable data show early school starts ranging into August do cause a drop in travel.  But the bigger news is that all of summer travel—not just August travel—drops by 30% when school starts early.”

While I have no skin in the game of school start dates, I do feel sorry for all those whose summer has already officially ended.  The daytime temperatures will have to start regularly dropping below 75º before I’ll feel mine is over.  Here’s to “those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” stretching on and on. I think Nat King Cole had it right when he sang, 

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer
Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
You’ll wish that summer could always be here