Seeing signs of success, school board re-approves longer days at Jefferson-Houston

By Julia Brouillette 

School board members believe longer days have made a difference at Jefferson-Houston in just a few months, so much so they voted overwhelmingly to keep them in place next year.

Since November, students at the Cameron Street school have taken an additional 90 minutes of classes four days a week. While educators are waiting on the results of the state Standards of Learning exams to see how well the initiative’s worked, internal testing indicates academic performance is improving.

But administrators made a few changes before voting June 6 to continue longer days next year. They modified the schedule, making Fridays shorter, but students will start extended days at the beginning of the school year as opposed to picking them up again in November.

Over the course of the 183-day academic year, Jefferson-Houston students will experience 166.5 extra hours of class time — about the equivalent of adding 30 days to the school calendar. And Jefferson-Houston teachers will continue spending extra time every Monday collaborating, planning and participating in professional learning.

Children in pre-k programs are the only students exempt from extended days.

Officials will primarily use state dollars to cover the cost of longer days, drawing on Title I set-aside funds from the Virginia Department of Education. Richmond previously ordered administrators to draft a plan that increases classroom time at the school, which historically has struggled academically.

Funding will range between $520,000 and $575,000, according to the proposal.

For the summer, principal Rosalyn Rice-Harris plans on inviting about 60 students to participate in a month-long educational program that she calls All About Alexandria. The group will embark on expeditionary-style trips around town and learn to integrate social studies, reading, science and mathematics into real-life experiences.

“That part of our population won’t suffer summer learning loss, and we’ll be able to support them in development of their skills in all of the content areas,” she said. “They’ll be much more exposed to the beauty of Alexandria and the greater D.C. region.”

Rice-Harris hopes that by exploring beyond their homes, students will return in the fall energized and with more memory intact.

“Many of our students haven’t left their neighborhoods,” she said. “With us being able to provide them with this time outside the building in order to apply everything that they’ve learned this past year and learn new things, I think it’ll only benefit our kids in September.”

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