On a four day program, classroom time would increase while also allowing a more flexible schedule for kayaking, biking, travel and other activities.
Students in the Southeast Island School District miss many classes when traveling for days or weeks to sporting and other events.
Story last updated at 1/30/2013 - 2:12 pm
The opportunity for schools to switch from five to four days each week may soon become available in Alaska. If passed, House Bill 21, a three-year Pilot Program sponsored by Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell and Rep. Tammie Willson, R-Fairbanks/North Pole, will take effect July 1, 2013. Alaskan school districts that apply for the change to a four-day school week must show satisfactory proof of community support and a formula for equivalent educational hours to a five-day week with an agreement to deliver quarterly reports on the resulting effects of the change.
According to a 2011 survey by The Washington Post, at least 292 school districts nationwide have a four-day school week, more than double the estimated number two years previously. Large school districts are currently operating on a four-day plan for various reasons, including savings from decreased heat, electric, bussing and staff costs. While success is mixed in large districts, small districts and small schools show good results and high satisfaction with a four-day schedule and seldom consider it for financial reasons.
Students, parents and teachers in the Southeast Island School District (SISD) with schools in Coffman Cove, Edna Bay, Hollis, Kasaan, Naukati, Port Alexander, Port Protection, Thorne Bay and Whale Pass brought the issue to a vote at local Advisory School Council (ASC) meetings last winter with an overwhelming (93 - 22) preference for a four-day school week. A new vote is going on now and results are expected to be similar.
All 10 Thorne Bay Student Council members interviewed supported the four-day week, pointing out that quite a few students participate in multiple sporting activities. Since travel is often by ferry off the island for two weeks, instead of missing 10 days of classes, students would only miss eight, substantially cutting back the volume of makeup work.
John Botello, a junior at Thorne Bay School is one of many students who are enthusiastic about the prospect of a four-day school week.
"I think we should have a four-day week because I do a lot of hunting and fishing and this schedule would be easier," he said. "Longer classes would be better and this way I wouldn't miss so many days when I'm traveling for basketball and wrestling. It should help my grades."
This sentiment was echoed by Triston Nyquist, another junior in Thorne Bay who cited the benefit of missing fewer classes while traveling, a preference for longer class time and the advantages for teachers who would have Fridays to work on classwork with more opportunity for collaboration.
Unique issues arise when schools are spread out across islands, especially in small, remote towns with only one or two teachers. Collaboration between teachers for lesson planning and professional learning community (PLC) time is difficult to schedule. A four-day week would give teachers time on Fridays to focus on these issues thus improving the quality of academic dynamics among teachers and schools.
When schools are scattered across islands, travel between them often takes days or weeks and students frequently miss in-class instruction when traveling for sports, exchange programs, student government and leadership events, art and music festivals. Doctor, dentist and DMV appointments are only available during school hours and often require lengthy time to travel as well. Both students and teachers could schedule these engagements on Friday, potentially improving attendance. A four-day schedule will reduce absences by more than 26 percent.
SISD Superintendent Lauren Burch, prompted by parents and students to evaluate a four-day school week, agrees that it makes sense considering the circumstances involved for remote communities. Many rural Alaskan families participate heavily in subsistence activities including hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering, which could be extended to three-day outings. Statistics have shown an overall improvement in attendance and morale on a four-day schedule.
Burch also suggested many additional "interesting possibilities" could be accomplished on Fridays from supplemental tutoring to kayaking, mountain biking and leadership camps which can be difficult to schedule around five day weeks.
The school day would start a half hour earlier and end a half hour later, adding 10 minutes to each class period. Nick Higson, Principal of the Thorne Bay School, said that on a four-day week students would actually be increasing their time spent in school, stating that.
"I wish people could understand that we're requiring students to be in school longer and we feel like this will be a good thing," he said.
Although it seems like a whole day is lost with the four-day calendar, when one does the math it shows students will actually be receiving an additional 22 hours of school per year. Teachers will work an additional three and a half hours on Friday.
Higson said that although there are many positive aspects to the plan, there are certain drawbacks as well, citing travel to school while still dark outside, day care issues, the effects of a longer school day on younger students and the potential for students to arrive home quite late if engaged in after school extra-curricular activities. There is always some reluctance to change.
Burch said even though this was completely driven by parents and students, he was still surprised at the overwhelming support for the idea, stating that for small schools to be successful, they must respond to what their "consumers" request.
"It is our job now to find ways to make it work for both those in favor and for those with concerns," he said. "It is what we do best and the reason for our success to date."
Even if SISD converts to four days, individual schools will still have the option to remain with a five-day schedule. Currently, only Edna Bay School has expressed an interest in remaining on the five-day schedule. Public input is being sought with a vote to be taken at each ASC meeting. Thorne Bay School will vote on the schedule at their next meeting at 6 p.m. on Feb. 7, 2013.