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Teachers, students make every minute count in longer days

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After 6½ hours in class, students at Sugar Grove Elementary School split into groups and head to other classrooms and hallways to continue reading, math and other lessons.

Normally the students would be going home; but after Center Grove canceled seven days because of severe winter weather, officials extended the day by 20 minutes through the end of the school year. All of Sugar Grove’s teachers, even those who lead music, art and physical education classes, spend the extra time working in small groups with students and making sure they understand the lessons they’ve been taught.

But teachers know that elementary students are coming off long days, so they try to make the extra instruction fun. That’s why when Sugar Grove’s physical education teachers review reading lessons with students they have basketballs that students can dribble down the hall while they work, Principal Davin Harpe said.

“It’s really important for us to make sure these additional minutes were spent on specific and intentional instruction and not just absorbed by adding extra time to pack backpacks and sharpen pencils,” Harpe said.

Clark-Pleasant extended the school day by 40 minutes between the end of February and today after canceling six days of school because of winter weather.

The longer days allowed Clark-Pleasant and Center Grove to make up three of the canceled days without extending the school year into June. The others were covered by previously scheduled snow days.

Casandra Robinson, who has children at Pleasant Crossing Elementary School, worried that younger students would lose focus during the longer days. But administrators said most students have had no problems keeping up with the new schedule.

“It feels like this is just a typical school day. You get used to it once you’ve been into it for a few days,” Maple Grove Elementary School Principal Brooke Phillips said.

After officials decided to extend the school days, principals and teachers met to discuss what they would do with that time. Phillips worked with a group of Maple Grove teachers before deciding that teachers could extend their lessons in class, while Harpe decided on his own to keep lessons at Sugar Grove Elementary unchanged and to focus the extra time on small-group work at the end of the day.

Maple Grove teachers can use the 20 extra minutes however they want, extending math or language arts lessons if students need help understanding a concept or adding time to science if they want more time to conduct an experiment, Phillips said.

The school’s teachers also work with students individually and in groups at the end of the day, helping those who are behind review lessons they don’t understand. The school’s music, art and physical education teachers rotate through the school at the end of the day to help teachers as they’re working with students, Phillips said.

Sugar Grove teachers and instructional assistants are focusing on ensuring that the school’s kindergarten through second-grade students read at grade level, while older students review lessons they’ll be tested on during

ISTEP and IREAD-3. Students who show they understand everything they’ve been taught work ahead on other lessons,

while students who are behind spend extra time reviewing those concepts until they’ve mastered them, Harpe said.

“They’re really finding ways to make this fun and to kind of reach out to the kids in different ways to meet their needs,” he said.

The new schedule wasn’t as disruptive to Robinson’s family’s schedule as she’d feared it would be.

Robinson has a kindergartner and a second-grader at Pleasant Crossing Elementary School.

The older child takes medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Robinson was worried that the medicine would wear off before the end of the school day. She was able to change her son’s medication schedule, and he didn’t have a problem making it through the school day. But her daughter has been exhausted at the end of each day in kindergarten, she said.

But after spring break ends for Clark-Pleasant schools, her kids’ schedules will be back to normal.

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