For as long as I can remember– and throughout me career as an educator– there has been one consistent complaint about the complex task of teaching children: THERE IS NEVER ENOUGH TIME!
The six and a half hour school day speeds by at a blinding pace. The unexpected delays, the daily interruptions, the fragmented schedules, the long lunch and recess breaks, the endless transitions– all steal time… the precious capital that is fundamental to effective teaching.
The nine month academic year starts at a frenzied late-summer pace. Then it’s Halloween, then Christmas, then we are preparing students for the annual assessments in May.
Pretty soon graduation ceremonies start to blend together– along with cycles of crises, issues of the day, trends and fads and national priorities. And, sadly, the faces of generations of children.
All in the blink of an eye.
There is never enough time, and yet, time is all we have.
At El Milagro we added 20 days to the instructional year a long time ago. Our students now return to school in late July, one full month ahead of their counterparts who attend schools which feature a traditional academic calendar. We have seen great growth from this development because we use the month of August strategically: 1) We conduct extensive formative assessments for every student using MAPS; 2) Our teachers meet 100% of our parents in conferences that set the tone for the year and insure that our parents (and thus our students) have a clear understanding of the standards and expectations for the year; and 3) Significantly, 75% of these meetings are HOME VISITS… so the partnership between home and school are well established by Labor Day.
This year the teachers went one step further. We implemented a new school schedule that adds 60 minutes of instruction to every school day! This too was done strategically. By adding instructional minutes we were able to 1) Protect a 3-hour, language arts time block; 2) Protect a 90 minute, math time block; 3) Guarantee a 45-minute ELD block for every student at every grade level; 4) Guarantee 75 minutes of active writing every day; 5) Eliminate the broken fragments of time; 6) Protect our RIT groups– a school wide strategy for differentiating instruction; 7) Protect the arts, social studies, science and physical education; 8) Extend learning time for accelerated students through an enrichment curriculum; and 9) Create a 45-minute daily time block to work with much smaller, targeted groups of students.
Our teachers responded to the age-old need for more time by carving out more time. This could only happen in a charter school, where staff can respond to the needs of our students first– then worry later about how everyone might be fairly compensated for their time. Even on this issue they reached consensus: “Let’s make sure that what we implement is working. Investing more TIME to get the same results is not acceptable.”
The new schedule starts on Tuesday, the day after Labor Day. There is tremendous optimism and a sense of profound appreciation from our parents who recognize a gift when they see one. Their children will be accelerated if we all do our jobs right. Our students now have a fighting chance to benefit from a far more comprehensive and content-rich curriculum. And it comes not a moment too soon.