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Linda Mah
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Changing Calendar, Changing Opportunities

Washington,Woodward Prep for Second Year of Alternative Calendar

Tamara Warren’s second-grade daughter wasn’t sure she wanted to go back to school at Washington Writers’ Academy in July last year — not because she didn’t like school, but because her cousins from Detroit teased her about going back so early.

But in October, when her first break came, it was her turn to tease her cousins about having a weeklong vacation while they were stuck in school.

“I told her, that’s why we went back in July,” said Warren, who is also a teacher at Washington.

Last year, Washington and Woodward School for Technology and Research piloted a new school calendar, in which the summer break was reduced to 38 days and was balanced with breaks throughout the remainder of the school year — most of which were tied to other holidays such as Thanksgiving and spring break.

None of the other breaks exceeded two weeks. The school year ends at the same time for the students on both the traditional and the new schedule.

The new calendar has been a refreshing change, say the principals of the two schools.

The schools are enrolling students now for the 2019–2020 school year, which begins July 22.

“We’ve really liked it,” said Frank Rocco, principal of Woodward. “The adults love it. The teachers and staff like it, and I haven’t heard any complaints from the parents.”

Rocco admitted that they were a little worried at the beginning of the school year, unsure of how students would react to being back in school on sunny July days.

“We were planning on grumpiness. We weren’t even sure how we as adults would respond to it,” he said with a laugh. “But being in school in July and August, it’s nice and sunny out even when you leave school. You still have a good six hours of daylight so it didn’t feel like normal school. Once students got here and got into the groove of school, they were fine.”

Lanisha Hannah-Spiller, principal of Washington, said that a year into using the new calendar, “The kids have adjusted great. Academically, they didn’t miss a beat.”

The curriculum at the two schools is the same as that at all other elementaries in the district; it has simply been divided into different sections to match the new break schedule.

There may be some minor tweaks to the schedule in the second year of the new calendar, but nothing major, Rocco said.

The new calendar was designed to reduce the effects of summer slide or summer learning loss. Research shows that the extended summer break of almost three months can often lead to a typical loss of one month of learning from the previous year. This is especially true for families where the children have fewer summer enrichment opportunities.

Warren said she certainly saw that as a teacher. The first weeks back after the long summer, she’d ask students their letters and they wouldn’t know. “And you think, oh, my goodness, you really have forgotten everything.”

She said she worried at first how her students would react to all of the breaks and feared that after each break, she’d have to start from Day 1 with introducing classroom rules and educational concepts. But in very little time, after the shorter breaks, they jump right back into the curriculum, she said.

Cindy Green, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning services, said, “Washing and Woodward students are excited for the new calendar. They come back from their breaks rested and ready to tackle their work. Teachers continue to work with students in an intensive and personal way to help drive achievement.”

Woodward and Washington are still collecting data to evaluate how the new calendar might have affected academic achievement. Staff hope to generate gains as the program moves into its second year.

Anecdotally, Rocco and Hannah-Spiller said they have seen gains for their schools. There have been fewer absences among students and staff, and the number of school suspensions are down, Rocco said. Hannah-Spiller said children had no trouble adjusting to the new schedule, and without the extended summer break, “the kids came back after each break and picked up right where they left off. They came back fresher after the short breaks.”

Rocco said, “This is not just a calendar for students who are behind in school. We really feel it is better for all kids to have a calendar without that one, long break. These are both good schools full of dedicated teachers who are choosing to be here and to take on this new challenge.”

Warren, who teaches second grade at Washington, said she enjoys the new rhythm of the school year as a parent and as a teacher.

“In October, my daughter was ready for a break, and we were able to visit relatives, which is not normally the case,” Warren said. “She doesn’t like long breaks. Any more than four weeks off and she says, ‘Mom, I’m missing school.’”

As a teacher, Warren especially enjoys her mid-winter break. She said she has been advocating for the calendar to other teachers by saying, “It’s the way to go. This year-round thing has been perfect.”

To enroll in Washington or Woodward for next school year, which begins July 22, please contact Student Services at (269) 337-0161.

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