Chris Davila hands out eggs as the children get ready to play games at The McNay Art Museum. Photo by Michael Cirlos.
Chris Davila hands out eggs as the children get ready to play games at the McNay Art Museum in the summer of 2016. Credit: Michael Cirlos for the San Antonio Report

We’ve made the turn into 2019 and already are eyeing spring on the calendar, which means the current school year is more than halfway completed. The summer is beckoning on the horizon, and it’s a fitting time for Texas’ 86th Legislature to consider how important that time is for students, teachers, and families.

That extended breather recharges bodies, minds, and even wallets. As the mother of two youngsters, I see summer breaks as many others do – an opportunity for parents and their children to relax, bond, and learn in an organic, experiential manner.

In many ways, the summer break provides a classroom every bit as important as the one that includes desks, books, and teachers. It means spending quality time exploring – whether it be the backyard or backwoods – and unleashing creativity, talents, and fun.

The importance of that time off has become more and more magnified as many schools statewide have considered and implemented expanded schedules that require students to be back onto campus earlier than ever before. In fact, many charter, private and public campuses now open up their doors for the school year by mid-August or earlier.

State legislation passed a dozen years ago mandated the official school start date each year be the fourth Monday of August, allowing for a longer uninterrupted break that protects the economic benefits of family travel and the bottom line of businesses counting on that tourism traffic and student workforce to accommodate it.

For many Texas businesses, every week that a school district mandates that students report early is a week of lost revenue – and that carries far-reaching implications. A shorter summer break reduces time for vacations, with less spending on accommodations, entertainment, dining, and other purchases. This is especially true in San Antonio, one of the top tourism destinations in the country, where the travel and hospitality industry generates $15.2 billion in economic impact annually.

According to The Perryman Group, the total economic losses from shifting school’s start date to one week earlier in August includes a projected $1 billion or more in Texas in aggregate spending and $543.2 million in gross product each year, as well as more than 7,500 jobs.

Perryman notes that if all districts started the school year just one week earlier, it would mean a $44 million per week negative impact in the San Antonio-New Braunfels corridor.

Indeed, the effect of an earlier start date has financial consequences, but there is so much more at stake. Students and even teachers can pursue additional income, families can spend invaluable time together, and learning can occur through unique experiences such as visits to museums and libraries, educational outdoors excursions, and even being a tourist in your own hometown.

There are other benefits. For many, working a summer job means learning the kind of interpersonal, interactive skills that can be of practical importance for future professions. For instance, getting attention off a phone or computer screen and instead focused on a customer means honing engagement skills that will pay lasting dividends.

Studies from several groups, including Psychology Today and the American Psychological Association, have shown that rest from vacation or other time off helps lessen irritability, depression, and anxiety. This is a boost for mental acuity and stamina in all areas. In this age of social media and white noise in every direction, flushing the mind of all that congestion means opening it to new ideas, creativity, and innovation.

Add it all up, and there’s little doubt that shortening the summer break equals losses for businesses, families, teachers, and students. More rooms filled in our hotels each year means more money added to the Hotel Occupancy Tax, a portion of which are directed to local schools. For example, in 2017 hospitality and tourism was responsible for $95.2 million in support for San Antonio-area school districts.

Legislators should consider that in securing the longer uninterrupted break for students, instructors, and families.

It doesn’t take an extra week in math class to figure out how important it is.

Casandra Matej is president and CEO of Visit San Antonio.