June 21, 2018
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Caribou-area elementary, middle school students to get harvest break starting this fall

Courtesy of Brenda Jepson
Courtesy of Brenda Jepson
In this December 2008 file photo, Ashlee Wood of Westfield picks potatoes at Dan Stewart's Farm in Presque Isle. RSU 39 recently voted for Caribou-area schools to get a harvest break starting this fall.
By Natalie De La Garza, Aroostook Republican & News

CARIBOU, Maine — All students in RSU 39 will be on the same schedule in the 2014-15 school year, including same start date, same vacation time, and same two weeks and two days off for harvest break.

Middle school and elementary students of RSU 39 have, in recent years, continued their schooling right through the high-schoolers’ harvest break, but that will change this fall. The RSU serves Caribou, Limestone and Stockholm.

In a 5-1 vote at its Feb. 19 meeting, the school board approved adopting a common calendar. This means all students will have the same days off, including a 16-day harvest break to help local farmers. Board Member Michelle Albert opposed the decision, with school board member Tanya Sleeper absent from the meeting.

Superintendent Frank McElwain expressed to the board that they’d done exhaustive research on the subject, which included sending out surveys and holding a public hearing.

“I don’t know what else you could have done, but it’s still not a slam-dunk easy decision,” he said of the multifaceted issue.

Some of the board members who vocalized their opposition to maintaining the roughly two-week vacation voted to keep the harvest break because of the impact eliminating it could have on the schools, such as Washburn or Presque Isle, who also have harvest breaks and send their students to the Caribou Regional Technology Center.

“We’re a regional vocational center, and we should be as accommodating to the sending schools as we can be,” said board member Kent Forbes, expressing that discussion to eliminate the break should be a collaborative process with the regional schools.

School board member John Sjostedt agreed.

“The decision on the harvest recess would be better made regionally; somebody’s going to have to get the ball rolling in the region to start thinking in those terms,” he said.

The regional tech center was enough for board member Dale Gordon to vote in favor of a harvest break — though she openly stated that if it weren’t for the vocational center, “I’d be voting to eliminate [the break] right now.”

“I’ve had a hard time for about 30 years to justify that educationally, taking kids out of school for three weeks in the middle of the year is a good idea in any educational principle you can come up with,” Gordon explained. “You can say they learn stuff in the harvest but realistically, I’ve always had a hard time with that.”

Gordon added that whatever decision the board made wouldn’t be popular with everyone.

Board member Albert opposed keeping the harvest break and moving to a common calendar, saying some youths have a hard time adjusting to the schedule change and break in learning.

Board member Mary White understood Albert’s point but explained that Christmas break is nearly as long as harvest break, “and nobody complains about Christmas break,” she said, describing her reasoning for voting in favor of the fall recess.

After meeting in executive session, the board also voted to ratify the contract with the teachers’ union.

The next meeting of the RSU 39 school board is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 5, at the superintendent’s office.


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