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Roanoke educators continue to seek ways to close the achievement gap. Voluntary year-round schools would be the next logical step.
Monday, August 19, 2013
As Roanoke students report for classes today, their superintendent’s theory on summer learning will be put to the test.
Superintendent Rita Bishop believes that a summer enrichment program, RCPS+, will not only stem the summer brain drain but propel students. If the 2,000 students who attended this year’s inaugural session show a distinct advantage over peers, whose learning trek went on hiatus, Bishop will have hard evidence that year-round schools can make a difference. Evidence that will prove helpful in winning a grant to explore year-round schools, and evidence to help define how such a program would be shaped.
Too few schools have broken free of the traditional 9-month school calendar that was necessary when children were needed to work family farms. Adherence to the agrarian calendar leaves economically disadvantaged children hungry, not just for the much-needed nourishment that hot school lunches help to quell, but for the ability to feed their minds. Learning, for them, stops when summer break begins.
But it isn’t just poor children who stand to benefit from year-round schooling. Parents with the means to afford summer enrichment programs already shuffle their children from one camp and lesson to the next. And working parents without the means stress over the likelihood that their idled children fall behind. Which is why the parents of 2,000 children enrolled them this summer in a program designed to deny that downward spiral.
Roanoke is now seeking a grant to explore a year-round program at three of its more challenging elementary schools — Fallon Park, Westside and Hurt Park. No students would be compelled to attend year-round, but given the large number of students and parents who opted for RCPS+, more might sign up than these three schools could accommodate.
There are many logistics to figure out, including transportation, added costs for year-round staff and building use. And then there is the matter of how the calendar would be structured.
Only a handful of schools in Virginia have switched to year-round schools, and the concept differs among schools. Some view year-round as merely stretching the mandatory 180 days over the calendar year, rather than nine months. Others, as Roanoke plans, seek to add much-needed instructional days with short quarterly breaks between marking periods.
Roanoke educators have demonstrated their ability to design innovative programs that close the achievement gap. Year-round school is the next logical step.
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