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Teachers say missed days hinder students’ learning

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Several times this winter, the tears have flowed in Franklin kindergarten classrooms.

At Northwood Elementary School, kindergarten teachers Jessica Tutton, Chloe Limbach, Heather Kepner and Megan Greene spent the first nine weeks of the school year telling students what they could expect when they arrived each morning. When that schedule changes unexpectedly, the kindergartners can get confused and upset, and when that happens they can’t focus on learning to read or count, the teachers said.

So when the 5- and 6-year-olds come in after a two-hour delay — which has happened eight times so far this winter — and hear that they won’t have recess, art, gym or music class, many start crying.

Students at Franklin Community High School typically appreciate the chance to sleep in when they have had a two-hour delay, chemistry teacher Matt Eskew said. But because they have less time in class, they aren’t as prepared for assignments and tests.

This week Eskew tested one of his classes on mole conversions and dimensional analysis, and the scores were some of the lowest he’s seen in three years.

“I think (the delays) have been hardest on kids. I think it puts them in a mentality where it doesn’t feel like school is really in. It throws off the momentum,” Eskew said.

Local school districts have canceled school from five to seven times and have postponed the start of school from five to 12 times this school year. That means all of the county’s students have missed more than a week of school this winter.

Most school districts have received a waiver from the state for two of the days missed and don’t have to make up the time when the start of school was delayed by two hours. So of the equivalent of eight to 10 days missed, students will make up three to five of them.

So far this winter, Franklin has canceled school six times and delayed it eight times. That amounts to about eight days lost, half of which will be made up, and Eskew isn’t sure he can teach all of his planned Chemistry I and college-level chemistry lessons because of the time that’s been lost.

Eskew has reorganized his lesson plans every day this semester, has dropped some of the assignments he had planned and has shortened tests for his classes because there was no time to teach all of the material. Still, because his students are spending less time in class, they aren’t mastering the shortened lessons he’s trying to teach them, he said.

Classes at the high school are 50 minutes long three days each week, and 90 minutes long twice a week. A two-hour delay during a 90-minute day isn’t much of a disruption because students are still in class for about an hour. When the start of school is pushed back on a day with shorter classes, students spend about 30 minutes in class, which often isn’t enough time for them to focus on what’s being taught, Eskew said.

“It almost feels like you lose half a day every time it happens,” he said.

Typically when there’s a two-hour delay, teachers decide how their lesson plans will be adjusted, but school officials don’t remember ever having to compensate for five to 12 delays.

Northwood Elementary School’s four kindergarten teachers have about 145 reading lessons to complete during the school year. Kindergartners receive 90 minutes of language arts lessons and 60 minutes of math lessons regardless of whether there’s a delay. When students are upset because they don’t understand why the schedule changed, that confusion stops them from focusing on the day’s lessons, the teachers said.

That’s why the teachers have started sharing a new word — flexible — with the students anytime there’s a delay.

“If anything, it has probably brought some good life lessons into the school day,” Greene said.

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