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Longer school days may be more productive
Teachers use extra hour to reinforce classroom concepts
Students at Riverbend Elementary School board a bus Wednesday after completing an extended-day schedule. Hall County is now a few days into its extended-day schedule, which officials say has allowed extra time to focus on academics. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

While some worried Hall County's extended school days would lead to lots of tired and crabby kids, administrators say the change is having the opposite effect.

Longer days, they say, might actually be more productive days.

"With the limited number of time on the clock there are certain things that over the last 10, 20 years teachers have just quit doing because they've felt such pressure to do other things," said Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield. "Maybe what some of the kids and teachers are telling us is, ‘Gosh it's nice to be able to do some of those things that make kids love learning and make teachers love teaching.'"

Wednesday was the third of 12 one-hour-longer days, which will make up in part for a week lost during a January snowstorm. Schofield said he was most concerned about how the youngest students would handle the extended days. But kids have remained engaged because teachers are using the extra time to creatively reinforce lessons with hands-on activities, he said.

At Oakwood Elementary School, students struggling in math were pulled into the gym to play educational games that emphasized the rules of measurement. And on Monday, the school was treated to a performance by a theatre and improvisation group, said principal Shane Rayburn.

Kindergarten teachers at Chestnut Mountain Elementary School had their students make bracelets with UV beads and then took the kids outside to watch the jewelry change color, said principal Sabrina May.

"It was so hard to get them on the bus," May said. "Because they were all coming up to me, ‘Look Dr. May, my beads changed colors.' And I said, ‘Well why do you think that happened?' And they said ‘We don't know. We've got to figure that out. We're going to talk about it tomorrow.'"

In advance of the upcoming Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, teachers have also used this time to target specific areas of weakness.

"They've been able to provide some really intensive learning time for the students that need it," May said.

Using the time for hands-on activities has not only kept students engaged, but has also kept them awake, principals said. In some ways, the kids have handled the transition better than the teachers, they said.

"I was just down in third grade and they were pulling worms out and had little cups," said Flowery Branch Elementary School principal Susan Miller.

"They're so excited about the hands-on things that they didn't seem any more tired. ... The kids are like ‘Let's do this all the time. We should stay an extra hour all the time.'"

Schofield said there might be some "very deep lessons" to be learned from the increased productivity on these extended days. The level of learning is directly related the amount of time spent on a task, he said, and the United States has some of the shortest school days of any industrialized country.

"As we've asked teachers and schools to teach more and more of a narrower focus over the last decade or two and we've kept our school days at the same length, it shouldn't surprise us that people have become more and more stressed and that children have perhaps enjoyed learning less and less," he said.

Rayburn said he'd like to see the schools incorporate the lessons learned from these extended days after the final bell is moved back.

"One of the things that we are realizing is this would be cool if we always had this time to spend," he said. "Because it has given us back some instructional time that we don't always have."


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