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Montgomery County plans on extending school year for poverty stricken schools

In wake of the rising poverty in Montgomery County, school officials have proposed extending the school year in two Silver Spring schools: Arcola and Roscoe Nix Elementary Schools. This strategy is designed to minimize the academic backsliding that occurs during summer break. Officials plan to extend the school year until the middle or end of July.

“There’s a lot of evidence that more time makes a difference in learning progression, and we want to see if we can do that effectively as part of the school year,” Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Jack Smith said in an interview.

As economically disadvantaged students are the most academically affected by breaks, the plan strives to boost academic success. Montgomery County now harbors over 50 thousand low-income students—over twice more than a decade ago. At Arcola and Nix, 77 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced meals, which is a major indication of poverty.

“We think it’s an excellent idea and much, much needed. It is something that was needed years ago,” said Diego Uriburu, Executive Director of Identity Inc., a nonprofit organization for Latino adolescents in the county.

The plan would add a total of four to five weeks to the traditional school year in addition to more experiential learning. If successful, the program will be expanded to other schools in a few years. Officials hope this new change will decrease “summer learning loss” and close the achievement gap, especially among poor students.

“I really do believe that a strategy for the achievement gap is more time in school. More time is better, especially for at-risk children,” Board of Education member Patricia O’Neill said.

Summer educational programs for disadvantaged students are not new to Montgomery County. For instance, the nonprofit Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL) program is one of the largest in the country. In Montgomery County, BELL has had a positive public reception and will soon double its enrollment to 2000 seats.

While such programs do yield literacy and math skill proficiency, Smith proclaims that the search for more permanent and durable solutions and needed. “At what point are we going to say that at least the schools most impacted by poverty need more time and it needs to be built in forever, not based on a grant?” Smith said. Smith’s words reflect the current issues of the county, currently with a budget short over $120 million.

The extended schedule in 13 D.C. Public Schools has increased standardized test scores, at a  cost of over $5 million a year. Absences, however, grew high during the extended portion of the school calendar.

To decrease costs, most urban districts opt to lengthen the school day instead of the school year, with much success. “The big issue is time alone doesn’t really matter; it’s how that time is used,” Jennifer Davis, co-founder of the National Center on Time and Learning at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, explained.

Despite budgetary struggles, summer educational programs remain necessary for the disadvantaged, in comparison to their peers who are able to afford tutors and expensive programs. For Maryland, however, schooling outside the time between Labor Day and June 15 require a waiver due to a state mandate. Nevertheless, the order exempts programs for low-performing and at-risk schools, allowing for the growth and development of these much needed programs.

Article by Moco Student staff writer Alice Zhu of Richard Montgomery High School

About The MoCo Student

In 2012, Student Member of the Board of Education John Mannes created a countywide press network to help build a conduit to share fresh and relevant information written by youth to the wider Montgomery County student body.

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