How spring break breaks schedules


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Two Students on a spring break trip through the service learning center.

Students who are counting down the days until spring break know that as of today, Friday March 8, they only have eight more days until freedom. If these students were at Calvin two decades earlier, however, they would have had to keep counting down the days for a while longer, because until 1997, Calvin’s spring break was traditionally the first week of April.

The timing change of spring break and the administration

For a long time, Calvin’s spring break aligned with those of most local schools, including Grand Rapids Christian Schools (GRCS).

Students and faculty repeatedly said that this was too late in the semester,” said Joel Carpenter, who was the provost in 1997. “Students were ready for some time off at a mid-term point in the semester, which comes in March, not April. So we changed the calendar to meet their needs.”

Heidi Rienstra, executive assistant to the provost, told Chimes about the guidelines she has for creating Calvin’s academic calendar each year.

“The number one guiding principle of the academic calendar is ‘what is best pedagogically.’” Rienstra said. She also explained that spring break always needs to be at the midpoint in the semester, a week long, and is not supposed to start or end on Easter weekend. Dean of Students John Witte echoed her sentiments about the timing of the break, emphasizing that it was not good for students’ learning to have a break late in the semester, and it also caused difficulties for professors.

“The bottom line is that Calvin creates its academic calendar as carefully as it can, tending to all sorts of internal considerations and making the best decisions we can for our students,” Witte said.

Faculty families

Area K-12 schools have a different spring break schedule than Calvin. Faculty with children attending three different local schools shared a variety of opinions on these diverging spring breaks with Chimes. Some professors said that having different spring breaks than their was not a problem.

Professor Pam Plantinga talked about how she enjoys having two different spring break schedules, because it allowed for two weeks that were calmer than normal.

The timing of spring break is also not important to Professor Debra Rienstra, who spends her breaks grading. However, she noted that her daughter always wanted to travel during spring breaks when she was in high school. Several professors said that the benefits of their academic schedule outweighed the challenges of spring break timing.

“Calvin has a much more supportive set of policies for work-family issues than any other institution in which I have worked, so the fact that spring break was on a different week than GRCS was not that big of a deal for me,” said Laura DeHaan, dean for academic administration. Professor C. Renee Sparks also said that she appreciated the overall flexibility of her schedule.

Other professors told Chimes that having different spring breaks than their children caused problems for their family.

“I wished we could have gone to visit family in Honduras when my children were younger. I could never spend time with my children while they had spring break,” professor Maria Rodriguez said.

Professor Mark Muyskens said he regretted the lack of family time over spring breaks, although he noted that from a professor’s point of view, Calvin’s spring break timing was beneficial for teaching.

“Unfortunately, it also means that the kids have too much ‘laying around doing nothing time’ during their break,” said Professor Todd Kapitula, adding, “Frankly, I am not sure why we as a college do not try to time our spring break with the local schools’ spring break.”

Having different spring break schedules than their children presents an especially unique challenge for faculty with small children. Chimes reached out to several professors who are parents of young children to ask for their thoughts on the spring break schedules.

For me personally, spring break is expensive in terms of both money and time. Financially, it means finding and hiring extra childcare for that week,” said professor Kristine Johnson, although she pointed out that this issue was not unique to Calvin. Other professors with older children remembered how they used to handle the week.

“[Spring break] meant calling in the troops of family and friends. The phrase, ‘It takes a village,’ is completely true,” said Sparks.

Plantinga had similar memories, emphasizing the importance of grandparents.

Sports teams and student athletes

The part of Calvin’s community with the most positive views of the current spring break schedule is the athletic program. Three people connected to the athletic program gave their perspectives on the timing of spring break. Jeffrey Febus, the sports information coordinator, explained that spring break looks different for athletes than for other Calvin students.

“When you commit to being a member of a spring sports team, you commit to travel with your team over spring break,” said Febus, adding, “For the most part, our teams do go south.” Nancy Meyer, professor of kinesiology, said that the old spring break schedule harmed the student-athletes because it cut into the middle of the MIAA season.

She also pointed out that the current spring break schedule, while improved, isn’t perfect for athletes, because Calvin still has one of the latest spring breaks in the MIAA. Joe Dykstra, the head athletic trainer, discussed how the current timing of spring break at Calvin benefits the sports teams.

“If our spring break schedule were later, it would be very difficult for us to play all our games in the conference,” he said. He emphasized that for athletics at Calvin, it is important for the school to have a spring break similar to other local colleges; Calvin’s is just a bit later than most other schools. “They need to have available opponents,” said Dykstra.

The Service-Learning Center and Education Majors

In contrast to the athletic department, not all campus programs have strong opinions of the timing of spring break. The Service-Learning Center, which takes students on service trips every year during spring break, is not bothered by its timing.

“I think the timing of spring break, in general, works fine for us in planning and implementing the trips,” said the center’s director, Jeffrey Bouman.

The education department works with students who are in the unique position of having to student teach during Calvin’s spring break, yet they said that the current schedule works all right for them.

“During Calvin’s March break, the student teachers are still working full time in their P-12 school classrooms. Then, when the local schools take their breaks — usually the first full week in April — the student teachers also take a break,” said Jane Genzink, an education professor, adding about her students: “They seem to adjust!”


Students with siblings in local schools

Students with siblings in local schools also had mixed views on the issue, with several saying they regretted missing out on family time and travel.

“This year it’s weird to see my family packing up to leave for spring break with me not joining them, since it’s always been a tradition,” said first-year student Greta Staggs, who has a sister at East Grand Rapids High School.

“When my family traveled, we would leave my brother behind because of the different spring break schedules… I think my brother felt a little left out,” said first-year student Haleigh Bos, who, along with her siblings, attended Hudsonville Public High School.

Not all students in this situation felt that it was a problem, however.

First-year student Erica Stinton, who has a younger sister in GRCS, said that different spring break schedules were overall not much of a problem. Several students pointed out that not being able to go on family trips prompted them to seek out other opportunities during spring break, and that this was a healthy stage of growth.

I can’t go on a spring break trip with my family forever and now that I’m in college, it might be a better time to branch out and explore other options,” said first-year student Jake Mulder, who has younger siblings at GRCS and East Rockford Middle School. Staggs also talked about the opportunity to spend time with friends on a road trip that she’s planning. Senior Hannah Mulder, who has a younger sibling at Holland Christian, had similar opinions.

“Not having the same spring break has enabled me to have adventures I would not have been able to have otherwise,” Hannah Mulder said.

Opinions on the current timing of spring break vary widely among the Calvin community. Clearly, there is no perfect time that fits everyone’s needs. JB Britton, associate dean of campus involvement and leadership, summed up the situation well, saying, “If we are student-focused the current schedule is great. If we want to design a schedule to benefit faculty and staff then the old system worked well.”