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Friday, October 17, 2008

Putting on the Breaks

This weekend Trinity students take a long-needed break as fall recess kicks into gear. Interestingly, no one is sure how long Trinity has had this traditional one-day Friday break, why it is in place at this time of year (mid-October), or what purpose it serves.

No doubt it is well-deserved and important to students, despite it offering only a three-day respite. At one time, mid-semester grades were clustered into early October. Today's students, however, find that once tests begin, there is really no let-up until finals end in December.

Over the past several years the University (students, faculty, staff, administration) has explored changing the Wednesday before Thanksgiving from a class day to a day off, to allow students to travel and arrive at their destinations prior to the Thursday holiday. In order to change the calendar, and have enough class days to retain accreditation, the University cannot simply lop off a day from the calendar. The day needs to come from somewhere.

Some of the options that have been explored include scrunching a day in at the end of the semester (creates problems for submitting senior grades before commencement), adding a day in August (which actually would require a seismic shift in the move-in, orientation, and faculty calendars - and require additional work days missed by parents traveling mid-week to deliver new students), or to exchange the day for fall break.

Understand that a Wednesday really should be replaced by a Monday/ Wednesday/Friday, because classes are only offered on that sequence, alternating with Tuesday/Thursday classes. Switching out the Wednesday before Thanksgiving for fall break is attractive to the faculty because it doesn't disrupt the calendar at either front or back end.

There are also concerns shared by faculty and students that a two-day week prior to Thanksgiving would become a de facto week off. Indeed, some schools offer such a break, though the timing is odd, given that Trinity's semester beak follows Thanksgiving in three to four weeks.

Students have strongly opposed swapping out these days. It is a no-brainer for them. Most take off the Wednesday before Thanksgiving anyways, as only about half of the classes actually meet, based on a recent survey. To lose a day the students are ducking out on anyways AND lose fall break is unpalatable. Though the fall break seems too short to be effective, it does offer a huge psychological target for students to reach for. The intensity of the semester ramps up then, and just having that break on the horizon often relieves enough stress heading into finals to pull students through.

The people who struggle with our current set-up the most are parents of new students. New students have not yet figured out the nuances of how to decide to skip the November Wednesday or not, and parents are anxious about flights for many of them.

So where does that leave things? No one is really fighting for change. For the time being, that means Trinity has a fall break, and holds classes on the busiest travel day of the year. And somehow... it works.

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