By Chandra Smith
College of Marin students will soak up the Spring Break sun for the last time this April. Starting next year, COM will be doing away with the week-long break in April. Instead, students and faculty will be joining Marin’s schoolchildren and high schools, and taking off for what traditionally has been called “Ski Week.”
Additionally, the winter recess will be extended by a week, giving students four full weeks away from school, testing, and classes. Students are ambivalent about the subsequent short time between vacations, to be implemented in January and February of 2015.
“Wait – What? Oh my God,” says Dakota Block, a first-year psychology student here at COM. Shocked by the changes, Dakota gathers her thoughts. “I don’t think that’s fair – I don’t like that.”
Between the extended winter recess and what is now being called Winter Break, or Ski Week, students will be back in school for only three-and-a-half weeks before being let out for another week in late February.
“Being back in school for such a short amount of time would be detrimental to my focus,” says Dakota. The breaks are so close together, it would make it hard to get back into my studies.”
Academics are actually the college’s main concern behind these changes. John Sutherland, chief negotiator of the faculty union explains, “To configure a calendar, I must take into account many different factors and requirements, many of them governed by the state and the Chancellor’s office.” Some such requirements include 175 instructional days, to take place within 17.5 weeks, providing a minimum of 48 hours per semester. Consider also that in any given semester, there are several mandatory holidays. All these factors can make configuring a successful academic calendar an unwieldy undertaking.
When asked her preference, former COM student Hannah Piette insists she would rather have the time off in April. “By the time midterms are over I’m ready for a break,” she said. Though she had already transferred to San Francisco State by spring of 2013, Hannah did not take off for Cancun or Fort Lauderdale in March like some of her classmates might have. She stayed in town to attend the one class she was still taking at COM.
History student Stephanie Lingvall concurs. “In April I’m so overwhelmed and ready for a break. It feels good because I know it won’t be much longer until summer,” she said. As for the extended recess between the fall and spring semesters, she’d “rather they add more vacation time somewhere else in the calendar.”
One of the reasons the spring semester will be starting later is the same reason the Winter Break is being implemented in February – to work around the three mandated holidays taking place in the spring – all of which are on Mondays.
Sutherland explains, “Classes that only meet on Mondays add difficulty on creating a calendar that meets state requirements.” This is because those classes have a significantly shorter semester than classes that meet on any other day of the week. As a COM English instructor and chair of the English / Humanities department, Sutherland knows how detrimental this can be to a class.
Cari Torres, Interim Vice President of Student Learning at the College, explains that by starting the semester after the Marin Luther King Jr. Holiday, beginning the new Winter Break with President’s Day and ending it before Memorial Day, the college essentially does away with the Monday problem. Negotiated between the faculty union and the district, the new school calendar originated as a proposal from the Unified Professors of Marin. Torres explains, “There is a desire to have more of a break between semesters. Processing grades and financial aid is a big task.” It is too big a task for a mere three weeks. Torres is of the opinion that “Ski Week” would be a misnomer, as “not everyone skis.”
It is unclear at this point which break will be called what. Call the February vacation “Winter Break,” and there is a threat of confusing it with what the calendar currently calls Winter Break – being winter vacation, or “the holidays.” The February break shown on the 2014-2015 calendar available on the COM website is economically called “Ski Week.”
There is no ski club or ski team at COM, and it would be hard to say what percentage of students would be taking advantage of ski week in a literal sense. COM graduate Ray Webb has owned the Ski and Tennis shop around the corner from COM for over a decade.
“Ski Week has always been the busiest week of the year, hands down,” Webb says. “All of the equipment will be rented and out of the store. It’s all reserved and booked starting in January.”
Webb says it will be great to have the COM students included in Ski Week should they choose to partake, “as long as there is snow of course,” which is a different story altogether. As far as the families who live here in Marin, the drought won’t keep them from vacationing. Ray says, “People who live in Marin are going on vacation no matter what.”
Another problem that college administrators and the union are addressing is declining enrollment at the school, which has been in a slump the last few years. According to Sutherland, this is in part due to the extremely early start date in January. With a more functional instructing schedule, a calendar that is more conducive to broader enrollment, and with a schedule aligning more closely with the rest of the district, the change should be an improvement for the Marin learning community and their families.
First-year history student Geoffrey Giles is happy at the prospect of a longer winter vacation. Accustomed to longer breaks, he was surprised when this past one was over by January 13. As one of the COM students who are under outside pressures like work, Geoffrey would use the longer winter vacation to “make more money for books and other expenses.” As far as the April-to-February break change, Geoffrey is indifferent. For him, that period is “for taking a break from school, a time to take a trip to Monterey. I don’t care about Ski Week. I’ve never been to the snow before.”
For students and teachers who do enjoy snow sports, and have the means for weeklong trips, a break in February will be thrilling. For the students who love so dearly their Monday-only courses, their thrill may have to be found in the three additional class times. Almost everyone though will enjoy that extra week off for the holidays.