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Students lined up outside Cleveland Elementary’s front doors Tuesday with bright backpacks, jittery anticipation and eager smiles. The familiar scene might seem a couple months too early for most families, but its back to school at Cleveland Elemtary School. c. Within an hour of the first day, principal Michelle Kritsistick said she received plenty of hugs and even a purple flower from students who were excited to get back to learning.
“I think we’re going to have a great year,” said Kristick, whose first day as principal of the school also was Tuesday.
Cleveland Elementary is the only school in Port Huron Area School District that is on a balanced — year-round — calendar. Kristick said this means that although students are in class 180 days as are their peers at schools with traditional calendars, the school days are distributed through the entire year. The students will have four-day school weeks until October and their winter and spring breaks will be three weeks each.
Cleveland Elementary adopted its balanced calendar in the 2014-15 school year as part of a three-year pilot program.
A $383,235 Michigan Department of Education grant covered most of the cost of installing air conditioning within the building, making it possible for Cleveland Elementary to transition into the new schedule. The grant specified the school must have a balanced calendar for at least three years, said Tracie Eschenburg, Port Huron Schools executive director of employee and student services.
Because other schools in the district lack climate control, Eschenburg said they are not being considered for year-round classes.
Cleveland Elementary was also chosen for the balanced calendar because it is considered an at-risk school, based on poverty rates in the area, said Eschenburg.
“The greatest impact is in those schools where you have more economically disadvantaged students,” Eschenburg said. “There is research that shows it supports improved academic performance, especially at your most at-risk schools.”
Kristick said being on a balanced calendar prevents “the summer slide.”
“When they’re not in school, their test scores dip a little bit,” Kristick said. “We don’t have to reteach expectations.”
The school’s 250 students began their new school year on Tuesday after a month-long summer break.
Kristick said she was able to get to know a number of the students at the school’s open house earlier this month. Kristick is new to the school but not the district. She taught reading recovery and was an interventionist at Woodrow Wilson Elementary for the past four years.
“It was nice to reconnect with those parents and students I met at the open house,” she said of the first day.
Isabella, 5, said she was excited to begin first grade because she loves to read books. Her mother, Paige Currier, said when she first learned the school was on a year-round schedule, she was apprehensive.
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But she has grown to appreciate the program and likes that the students aren’t out of school for the usual three-month break that other schools have. Currier likes the pace of the curriculum at Cleveland Elementary.
“(Isabella) learned to read in kindergarten,” Currier said.
Kristick said there are 29 students at Cleveland who enrolled through Schools of Choice.
Wendell Callahan said his son Xzavier, who just began third grade, first started at Cleveland Elementary because they lived in the area. They later moved away, though, but Xzavier wanted to stay at Cleveland with his friends.
Callahan said Xzavier was ready to get back to school because he was already starting to get bored with his break.
“I think it keeps him fresh and keeps him out of trouble,” Callahan said.
Xzavier, 9, said he is hoping that he can take technology classes this year and that he’s looking forward to getting started.
Due to changes in state testing, Eschenburg said there is no comparable data to look at Cleveland Elementary’s performance before and after the balanced calendar was put in place.
However, perception and feedback has shown the district that the balanced calendar has been beneficial.
“It has allowed us to implement extended learning opportunities through a partnership with district Title I funding and Port Huron City Recreation,” Eschenburg said. “We have also found that the shorter breaks reduce the need for as much reteaching related to school routines and academics.”
Although Cleveland Elementary is in its final year of the pilot program, Eschenburg said the district currently has no plans to return Cleveland Elementary to a traditional calendar.
“We will analyze everything at the end of the year and analyze the three-year trend to make a decision,” Eschenburg said. “But at this point, based on the positive feedback, there is no plan to end it.”
Contact Anya Rath at (810) 434-2172 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @anya_rath.
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