Archive for Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Schools’ Spring Breaks a recent invention

March 18, 2014

During the next couple of weeks colleges and virtually every other school will be observing spring break. It is a time students and teachers love — though not necessarily parents with younger students, who scramble to find child care. For some college and high school students it can be an expanded learning experience. On the other hand many college students head for the beaches and a week-long party.

In general school spring breaks are relatively new. In the dusty, cobweb filled past when I was in school, there were no spring breaks. If you were lucky, you had an Easter holiday which consisted of Good Friday and the Monday after Easter without classes. I’m not sure when the extended break reached the high school and grade school level. Early on, some schools in cold-weather states built in a “free” week which could be used as snow make-up days. Some families use the week as a chance for a vacation.

There were spring breaks when I was in college, and I decided it was a good thing since students who came from other states were able to take a trip home. I liked spring break for another reason: I could usually get a full week of work. This meant more money for me and my perennially tight budget, and since I was writing for newspapers, I really didn’t mind not taking a trip. Work was fun for me, and earning extra money was always a good thing.

I was surprised to find that the idea of a spring break dates back to ancient Greece and Rome. In their beliefs, the coming of spring was a cause for celebration. Spring meant the return of growing seasons and fertility, and if you look at their cultures, they didn’t need much of an excuse for a celebration. In colder countries the coming of spring meant the end of brutal and often fatal winters. Spring promised the planting of crops and the opportunity to replenish food supplies.

The idea of the spring break trip south can be traced to Sam Ingram, who was the swimming coach at Colgate University. In 1936, he utilized the college spring break to take his swimming team south to a hotel in Fort Lauderdale that had an Olympic-size swimming pool where they could train properly. By 1938, the economy was better and many college students started south, and Fort Lauderdale become the unofficial “home” of spring breaks.

World War II slowed the popularity of spring breaks, however. Everything was aimed at the war effort and gasoline was rationed. By the 1950s, the idea of a week in the south was gaining popularity with students. This was particularly true as the spring break and warm weather beaches became synonymous with beer, bikinis and wild parties. The 1960 movie, “Where the Boys Are” became the standard for spring break partying. By the mid-1980s, Fort Lauderdale was attracting more than 350,000 students during spring break time. Certainly, I would have to guess that spring break meant both money and problems for businesses. Anyway, the trend has spread to beach resort areas throughout the United States.

Some schools have attempted to counter the party image by offering extended learning opportunities during the week. According to what I’ve read these opportunities are gaining in popularity. Other young people take the opportunity to do service projects. They give their time to improving communities and helping those less fortunate which seems to me to be a very good idea.

Probably the concept of a break in the middle of the semester is a good idea. It gives both teachers and students a chance to relax and get ready for the final push.

Let me add, if you are planning a spring trip, please be careful and return safely.


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