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My boys went back to school on Monday, but it wasn’t their first day of school this school year. They were just tracking back in.

And this is how quickly any conversation with someone outside of Wake County turns into a lengthy discussion about year-round school!

So, how does it work? Do you like it? What’s “track out?” Time to answer all those questions in one place while explaining why we love year-round school and wouldn’t want school any different for our kids.

HOW YEAR-ROUND SCHOOL WORKS IN WAKE COUNTY

Here in North Carolina’s Wake County Public School System, approximately one-third of all elementary and middle schools run on a year-round multi-track schedule. This translates to over 40 year-round schools so the concept is pretty common in these parts. All high schools and the remaining elementary and middle schools follow a traditional calendar with summers off.

Year-rounders attend school for the same number of days as kids at schools with traditional calendars, but instead of one long break during the summer, they have four three-week breaks – one every season.

The multi-track system consists of four “tracks” or calendars. All students are placed in one of these four tracks, which are referred to as track 1, track 2, track 3, and track 4 (fancy, huh?). Each quarter, the students are in school for nine weeks (“tracked in”) and then off (“tracked out”) for three weeks. Therefore, three of the tracks are tracked in at any given time while the fourth is tracked out leaving only a subset of the entire school population in session on any given day. Students on all tracks additionally have a two-week Christmas break and one week off between school years in late June and early July in addition to Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, and other usual holidays.

To provide an example, I’ll start with the beginning of the school year. The first day of school falls several days after Independence Day in early July with tracks 1, 2, and 3 while track 4 is tracked out. Three weeks later, the track 4 kids’ break is over and they have their first day of school as the kids on track 3 track out. Three weeks after that, the track 2 kids track out and the track 3 kids return, and so on.

The WCPSS provides a nifty color-coded calendar that visually shows the track ins and outs.

If this looks familiar, you must have a kid in Wake County year-round school!

An interesting side-effect of the multi-track calendar is that kids aren’t in the same physical classroom for the entire year. They retain the same teacher and group of classmates, of course (teachers track in and out with their students), but they return to a different classroom when tracking in, always taking the recently-vacated room used by a class that just tracked out. As a result, classrooms for each grade level are decorated with many of the same instructional materials so they are not moved from room to room although teachers do place many materials specific to their class in storage while tracked out.

SATURDAY SCHOOL

When I was growing up, schools would simply add days to the end of the school year when a school day was cancelled for a snowstorm or hurricane. However, there is no room at the end of the year in year-round school. The next school year literally begins the following day when teachers return to school to attend workshops and prepare for next year’s class.

So, Saturdays are used to make up the missed days. Sometimes the Saturday of the same week as the missed day is used as the make-up day, but if the weather is still inclement by the end of the week or if multiple days were missed so multiple Saturdays are needed, the make-up days can be much later. Since only kids on the three tracks in session during the missed day need to attend the Saturday make-up day, it will be a couple of months before the same three tracks are in session again to schedule the Saturday make-up. This is why my kids have gone to school on Saturdays in May for school missed during ice storms in February.

Saturday make-up days are half days, letting out just after lunchtime. As you might guess, they also aren’t fully attended so teachers often have more creative lesson plans that are only possible with a smaller class. My boys haven’t complained about a Saturday spent in school yet and I usually plan a full afternoon of fun activities so that the day is so busy that they feel like they got their full weekend and forgot they even went to school!

WHY DOES THE COUNTY DO IT?

With a year-round calendar, each school building is able to accommodate more students because the entire school population is never in session at the same time. This reduces the number of school buildings needed to handle the population. There are studies that show students in year-round school have better retention rates than those who have the entire summer off, but it really just comes down to money as well!

WHY WE LOVE YEAR-ROUND SCHOOL

My kids are both still young and I find that when they are nearing the end of their nine-week track-in, they’re done! By 8 or 9 weeks, they’re ready for a break, but that nine weeks also isn’t too short to get into a learning groove and get the work done.

Likewise, the three-week track-out is the perfect length of time off. By the end of the third week, the boys are getting bored and picking fights with each other much more often. They’re ready to go back to school! I honestly have no idea how we would handle the boys being off for an entire summer. They would drive us and each other crazy!

We are both working parents so the boys are under Gmummy’s loving care during track-outs. We wouldn’t have such a luxury if they were on a traditional calendar as we simply wouldn’t burden anyone with watching them for an entire summer! We are so lucky that we don’t even have to think about track out plans. Gmummy excitedly prepares activities for their weeks off, but she’s also understandably ready to have a break when three solid weeks of little boy mayhem is over!

For families without the grandparent luxury, many of the same programs that offer summer camps also offer track-out camps throughout the year. Year-round school is prevalent here so the programs available are numerous.

We also love the seasonal three-week breaks that give us the ability to take family vacations year-round without missing school. Summers at National Parks, theme parks, and large cities are hot and crowded. The track-outs on the year-round calendar have allowed us to take family vacations to New York City in the fall (just right!), Disney World in February (perfect!), and our epic road trip in the spring (sandwiched perfectly between spring break crowds and the summer onslaught), all destinations that would’ve been hot and crowded in the summer.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Do your kids attend year-round school? What do you like or dislike about year-round school? Do you wish year-round school was offered in your area?