© 2023 NPR Illinois
The Capital's NPR Network Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

First Day Of School For Year-Rounders

Dusty Rhodes
WUIS/Illinois Issues

On Tuesday evening, Apple DeWeese was sitting in the front porch swing with her dad, Aaron, trying to explain how she's feeling about starting school.

"I'm not really excited," she said. "Mostly scared."

What's there to be scared of?

"I don't exactly know, but I'm just scared," Apple said. "I think all the kids are gonna be scared, mostly."

Apple, who is 5 and entering kindergarten, is one of about 500 Springfield students who attend year-round, or "balanced calendar" schools.

"Balanced calendar is just more evenly divided. We attend the same number of days as the other schools in the district, they're just divided up a little bit differently," says Kimberly Siltman, principal of Elizabeth Graham Elementary. "We have a three-week fall break, a three-week winter break, a three-week spring break, and then about five and a half to six weeks off in the summer." 

Summer break ended this week as the new school year kicked off at Southern View Elementary and at Graham, where Apple was headed when I stopped by her house on Wednesday morning. It was just after 7 when I rang the doorbell. Apple was already dressed.

"Oh, she's ready," her dad said. "She's been carrying her backpack around for the last half an hour."

"What?" Apple teased her dad. "It has my Enderman in this pocket."

Enderman, a Minecraft character, is Apple's favorite toy, and she hoped to take it along to school.

Her big sister, Ada, offered some 8-year-old wisdom.

"Well, I've given her advice," Ada said. "If people try to bully you, just sort of say, 'I know I'm all those things, but what are you? Embrace your differences.' " 


Credit Dusty Rhodes / WUIS/Illinois Issues
WUIS/Illinois Issues
New kindergartner Apple DeWeese sticks close to her dad, Aaron DeWeese, as they approach Elizabeth Graham Elementary School.

At Graham, class lists are posted by the front door, and Apple's dad tries to pump her up with some good news.

"Oh yea! You have Ms. Davis! Just like Ada did," he says. "She's great! Alright!"

Apple leans on her dad while meeting her teacher, Christine Davis.

But despite a warm welcome in the classroom, Apple glues herself -- silently -- to her dad.

"Did you find your name? Yeah? Well that's all I ask on the first day," Christine Davis tells Apple. "If you knew everything you were supposed to know, you know you wouldn't even be in my class. They'd have to ship you off to first grade already!"

I follow Apple and her dad to the cafeteria, where the school is serving breakfast to kids and their parents. I find another little girl, excited about her first day of school. Her name is Harmony, and she's about to start kindergarten. This is her family's first experience with balanced-calendar schooling, but Harmony's father, Savill Turner, is happy to try it out.

Credit Dusty Rhodes / WUIS/Illinois Issues
WUIS/Illinois Issues
Harmony Turner is excited about her first day of kindergarten.

"I'm pretty confident it will go pretty well," he said. "It still amounts to the same amount of time out of school as the summer vacation and the other days off." 

Another mom, who did not want her name used , said her family moved to Springfield about a year ago and they weren't thrilled to find that their neighborhood school used a balanced calendar. But after watching her daughter's progress in first grade, the mom's attitude changed. 

"I think it's nice for her when she gets to the point where she's starting to get burned out on school. It gives her the break that she needs," the mom said. "And then, it kind of gives her some one-on-one time at home, when her other sisters are in school.

Latoya Crawford transferred her son, now in 4th grade, to Graham in part because of the balanced calendar.

"I get it all the time, like 'Why does your son goes to year-around school? Why do you let him do it?' And I'm like, 'Are you kidding me? Why wouldn't you put your child in year-round school?' Year-round school is great," Crawford said. "I love it. I think all the schools should adopt it." 

Credit Dusty Rhodes / WUIS/Illinois Issues
WUIS/Illinois Issues
Dad Aaron DeWeese smuggles Apple's favorite toy, Enderman, out of the school.

But how did Apple like it? I stopped by her house after school to find out.

"So she enjoyed it! She said she made a new friend," her mom, Alexis DeWeese said. "She didn't catch her name, but she said she had another friend in class from  her preschool."

"I do know one person there -- Joliana."

Apple was more interested in her juice box than talking to me. So I just cut straight to the chase, asking Apple if she planned to go to school tomorrow.

"I don't know," she said, then added, "Yes."


After a long career in newspapers (Dallas Observer, The Dallas Morning News, Anchorage Daily News, Illinois Times), Dusty returned to school to get a master's degree in multimedia journalism. She began work as Education Desk reporter at NPR Illinois in September 2014.
Related Stories