Common school breaks help

Only a few months ago, Bonnie and I flew to Iceland to join our son, Stan, his wife and two daughters, for a dip into their many hot lakes and to see first-hand what the country has done to maximize solar power.

It was surprising that for a land so far north; we sweated in some of the many steaming swimming areas. We’d read about the geothermal and hydraulic energy, geysers and volcanoes.

We’d flown to a city called Reykjavik, where we discovered that their late-winter temperatures were comparable to those in Las Vegas. Although we need to wrap ourselves in light jackets, we never felt overly chilled. And we’ll do it again, as Iceland is a convenient mid-point between New Mexico and Denmark, where our son’s family lives. We usually trade visits each year.

What impressed us considerably was the organized way in which the Icelanders plan schedules. And it seemed as the entire city — much smaller than Albuquerque — was on a simultaneous break.

Let me explain:

Although the word of the few Iceland natives we conversed with might not have been gospel, we heard that there’s such coordination among business places, government and schools that they agree on a week of spring break that applies to most of the country and even large parts of Europe. There seemed to be none of that “we’re off this week, and the rest of you take off next week.”

We arrived in Reykjavik at the opening of their agreed-upon chilly spring break. Then we discovered that the more popular tourist spots teemed with visitors from much of Western Europe. We learned that much of that area also coordinates its dates for the start of school in the fall and its ending dates.

Our daughter-in-law, Lisbeth, a native Dane, explained how convenient it is when entities agree on when spring vacation occurs. Their two daughters, Ellen and June, go to different elementary schools, but are able to count on the same vacation dates.

Bonnie and I, both retired, unwittingly planned our trip north and east without realizing how important coordination of holidays and breaks must be to people over there.

It didn’t take long for my family to do some what-iffing. What if coordination of breaks from schools and other institutions became a reality in the United States, or even in Las Vegas?

Think of it: Seldom (if ever) do the two Las Vegas School districts schedule identical days off. It’s almost as if officials on one side of the Gallinas deliberately reason that “Since the other guys were on break last week in April, let’s have our break this week.”

I don’t dare surmise that there’s much planning here on when to have spring break, and I’m aware that sometimes school schedules are worked on years in advance. The notion of avoiding matching holidays appears to be more of the norm.

A number of years ago, we five members of my family found ourselves in a sort of Orwellian puzzle that couldn’t have happened randomly. At the time, I taught a couple of courses at Luna Community College; Bonnie took our youngest, Benjie, with her to Wagon Mound, where she taught and where Benjie attended school; Diego chose West Las Vegas High School; and Stan was a senior at Robertson.

Now, what are the odds that we could all take the same spring week for travel, relaxation, or simply working at home? The chances that year were zero.

Of course, as I recall there might have been some common days off, such as the same break for Wagon Mound and Highlands, but the chances of matching days off for all of us simply did not exist.

I get the impression — whether for good or bad — that districts deliberately try not to “compete” with one another (and I realize “compete” isn’t a very good choice of words). I wonder whether one local school district’s management reasons simply, “We can’t get off that week because that’s when the guys across the river have their break.”

To which we need to ask: And what’s wrong with a modicum of cooperation?

The divergent days off, mentioned above, prevented my family, and presumably many local families, from taking trips, spending time together or simply enjoying days off.

This year the West Las Vegas Schools are already in session. What about East? Uh-uh: Not till next week. It seems about the only thing East and West customarily agree upon are the dates for their football and basketball games.

Hmm. What if the high schools on both sides of the Gallinas were to merge and try to build even better hoop and gridiron teams? Whenever that topic arises, we hear from people who simply can’t abide the notion of a combined district. The super team could be named the Doncards. Or how about the Cardons? Or possibly other linguistic combinations?

And doesn’t it seem redundant — not to mention wasteful — that students are free to enroll at either school as long as they don’t depend on a bus to get them to the school across town?

It seems that any discussion of consolidation of the districts needs to begin on the hardwood or the basketball court.

In light of the current closing of a number of schools on both sides of the Gallinas, due to declining enrollments, the present may just be the time to work toward a merging of the high schools.

But we ought not even dream of structuring a school district solely on the basis of three-point shooting, yards per carry or RBIs. We need first to earnestly try to achieve lofty academic goals.

Prowess on the football field, basketball court or baseball diamond will follow.

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