SPEAKING OUT

Let's (spring) break together for a change


Published: Friday, April 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 31, 2005 at 10:57 p.m.
It's that time of year again: The Alachua County public schools are on spring break, but the University of Florida had its break a month ago.
So, instead of heading out for a great adventure, families who have even one person affiliated with UF may be stuck in town, perhaps with the kids
going to a day camp or just left on their own for a week.
Things are much saner in other college towns such as Champaign, Ill.; Austin, Texas and Boulder, Colo. In those communities, spring breaks are aligned so that the campus and local school districts are on vacation at the same time.
For my family, spring break trips have been a vital part of our children's education. This year, we are in New York City, and our itinerary includes
a visit to Ellis Island, a tour of the United Nations, a trip to the American Museum of Natural History, a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and a few hours in the Sony Wonder Technology Lab.
Other families take a more laid-back approach, simply enjoying the week off together, perhaps going camping nearby or watching videos or doing
projects around the house. Some years, our family has made it a week-long science field trip, helping with my husband's research as we traveled across the Southeast.
Each of our children was mentioned by name in the acknowledgements section of an article that appeared in the June 1992 Florida Entomologist, thanking them for "again donating their spring break to counting ants."
But last year, I was taking a class at the University of Florida, so we couldn't take a trip nor spend much time together.
Every year, parents complain to the School Board and write letters to the editor. It hasn't changed yet. But I have hopes that the time is ripe.
For one thing, Kyle Cavanaugh was recently named as the University of Florida's first vice president for human resources. Where did he come from? The University of Texas at Austin, one of those fine universities with a long-standing tradition of town-gown synchronization of spring breaks.
Having seen how well such a system works and how it contributes to faculty/staff morale, surely he will help negotiate with the local school boards to bring the breaks together.
For another thing, UF under President Bernie Machen has made much louder noises about trying to build a world-class research institution.
One factor that in-demand faculty might consider in choosing a university is the ability to have quality family time, like going on spring break trips together.
I doubt that Gainesville's disjointed spring break situation is the main reason that anyone rejects a job offer from UF, but I believe it may well be part of the deliberations when choosing between two appealing options.
(For me, personally, preserving the ability to take spring breaks with my children was a deal-breaker in a career decision I made a few years back.)
How many people are affected by the unintegrated breaks? Does UF or the School Board have any idea? Given that the university is the major employer in town, it has to be a huge percentage of local families.
Moreover, one doesn't even have to be on faculty or staff at UF to have such a conflict. Many local educators take courses at UF, as do some local high school students.
Yes, the public school system has to worry about the FCAT exams, which must be given at the beginning of March. But in Austin, for example, both
the University of Texas and the Austin Independent School District took their break from March 14-18 this year.
How about this for starters: Let's just do it every other year. Odd years together, the even years whenever the institutions choose. Even that approach would be better than how things are now.
It is time to stop breaking up families with spring breaks.
Colleen Kay Porter is a Gainesville mother of five, a grandmother, and a researcher at the University of Florida.

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