Monday morning it was rise and shine at Alcoa Elementary School as parents and students arrived to begin another school year.
While some parent groups such as Save Tennessee Summers have worked to prolong the summer break for students, parents in Alcoa embrace returning to school with a full week remaining in July.
"Most of the other students in Blount County are in bed asleep," said Alcoa City Schools director Dr. Brian Bell. "Here at Alcoa we're arriving at 7:30 in the morning with smiles on our faces. This is a calendar we think works for us and our academics."
Alcoa begins its academic year earlier than all other school systems in East Tennessee. However, it is not a year-round school calendar.
"We still have a summer break. The kids get out in May and are off for around eight or nine weeks," said Teonna McCall, parent of a second grader at Alcoa Elementary. "He [my son] is ready to go back to school. He is ready to see all of his friends."
"It's kind of early, but at the same time it gets them back into it," said parent John Marham. "I like it and my son likes it."
The shorter summer break gives students longer breaks during the fall and spring. Students get two solid weeks of vacation in the fall, another two weeks for Winter break around Christmas, and two more weeks of spring vacation in March.
"I think it's easier because they [the children] don't forget everything," said McCall. "This morning it was easier to get him up. I think with a longer break it's harder to get back into a routine of going to school."
"We go really hard for nine weeks and then the kids get two weeks off. Then we hit it hard for another nine weeks and get another two week break. It keeps us fresh and it also lets people take vacations in the spring and fall. Those are wonderful times of year to enjoy East Tennessee or take a trip," said Bell.
"I can tell you I brought a 10-year-old who was excited to come to school today," said parent Jennifer Heaton. "At the end of the day, that's what it's really about."
The long mid-semester breaks also help bring some students up to speed.
"We have remediation periods during the spring and fall breaks where students who are falling behind or are not meeting benchmarks can come to school and get more one-on-one instruction with their teachers," said Bell.
While parents and administrators admitted no single schedule is perfect, they say the one in Alcoa works for them and their children.
"He [my son] is always going to go to Alcoa. He's an Alcoa boy," said McCall.
Reporter's Note: The following link provides a full list of school start dates for 2012-2013 in districts across East Tennessee.