This is Labor Day weekend. It's our nation's annual holiday in which we celebrate work by taking the day off.
Labor Day also signals the end of summer. And, in many parts of the country, it also means the start of the school year.
The latter part seems a little odd around here, since the public school year has started before Labor Day for decades. Even so, we see occasional cultural clues that other communities don't start school until next week: comic strip references in the daily paper, for example, or back-to-school sale ads from national retailers.
Our community has settled - somewhat uncomfortably, in some cases - with a start to the school year of around the second week of August. And in all of the debates about the school calendar, a recurring point is that the calendar still has just 180 classroom days, no matter when the school year starts.
But an interesting thought comes to mind: Has the earlier start to the school year, coupled with more holidays sprinkled throughout the year, expanded the total span of time that the schools are open - and cut the summer vacation even shorter?
Obviously, the answer is yes. But the actual numbers are somewhat enlightening.
Let's go back to relatively ancient history - 1970. School in Columbia County that year started Aug. 31, a full 20 days later than this year's Aug. 11 start. The last day of school was June 2, 1971; this school year will end May 22.
Add that up. Aug. 31-June 2 spans 276 days; Aug. 11-May 22 spans 284 days.
That means the 2008-09 school year will last nearly two weeks longer than the school year did in 1970 - so summer vacation is two weeks shorter.
Of course, the welcome trade-off is that teachers and students benefit from more holidays and mini-vacations sprinkled throughout the year.
That might help ease the sting of knowing that for some people summer isn't over until Tuesday - after almost everyone gets a three-day weekend.
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