WHEAT RIDGE —The numbers are in, and longer school days at Pennington Elementary are translating into increased student performance, fewer suspensions and more parental involvement.
Principal Sandy Craig said
the results, both data-driven and anecdotal, have been impressive.
Recent changes in statewide testing don't allow for a benchmark from last year, but results from the initial 2013-14 school year were dramatic: Attendance at family-teacher conferences jumped from 50 to 89 percent; suspensions dropped 80 percent; and Pennington's School Performance Framework rating increased 18.8 percent.
The school was one of four selected across Colorado in 2012 to participate in a nationwide pilot program funded by the TIME Collaborative program. It is finishing up its second full year of a 90-minute extended school day.
In 2013-14, 86 percent of Pennington students qualified for free or reduced-cost lunch, according to district statistics. The school gets Title 1 funds from the U.S. Department of Education as a school with a high percentage of children from low-income families and is in its third year under a priority improvement designation with the Colorado Department of Education.
The organization awarded Pennington a three-year grant of $40,000. The Colorado Department of Education recently approved a $150,000 grant to keep the program running another five years.
Hundreds of school districts across the country have either considered or actually implemented longer school days, often to fierce community resistance.
"When the district first proposed this, we were kind of freaked out," Craig said. "But once we put it in the hands of our students, parents, teachers and other stakeholders and said 'you guys get to create what this looks like,' people embraced it fully."
Students now start the day at 7:50 a.m. and are released at 4:20 p.m. Teachers are on a staggered schedule, meaning they're not working longer hours.
The school has daily science and social studies instruction, as well as time for art, music, physical education, computers, library, vocabulary work and positive behavior support.
A 45-minute period at the end of every day is used for enrichment classes — drama, karate, fantasy football, athletics and book clubs are among dozens of offerings.
Students pick five classes each week, and community partners provide the daily programming.
Brielle Trefern, a fifth-grader who joined others in creating the new schedule, has come to like it — especially the 45-minute enrichment classes.
"We get to do activities we wouldn't have during the normal schedule," Brielle said. "I also like how we get to switch classes every day and meet new people from the community."
Denise Spencer, former president of the Pennington PTA, said the initiative has helped close the achievement and opportunity gaps many Pennington students face.
She added that before the extended days, some students would loiter on school grounds after class "because they had nowhere else to go."
"Many of our families can't afford to pay fees for afterschool activities, and now, students get to experiment with learning fun and new hobbies," Spencer said.
District IV Councilwoman Genevieve Wooden, who also serves on the Wheat Ridge Committee for Educational Excellence, said the level of community buy-in has been high.
"Beyond the academics, this program is really serving the community with helping parents out by keeping kids busy after school," Wooden said. "It's really been embraced by the community and been an asset to Wheat Ridge."