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Mom Sara Westrich is looking forward to a different event this summer: the start of a year-round school year. Since her 7-year-old son, Gavyn, has ADHD, she feels the new attendance policy will give him structure as well as a break to do his own thing. “I love it!” says Westrich, an administrative assistant at Resurrection Catholic School where Gavyn is a second-grader.
Resurrection is one of nine schools in Memphis’ Jubilee Catholic Schools Network (JCSN) that will begin a year-round calendar starting July 27th. The school year will end June 23, 2016. The remaining 18 schools in the Catholic system will stay on the traditional 180 day school calendar with 10 weeks off over the summer.
More instruction time
For the Jubilee Network, the change adds 20 school days, a full month to the calendar year, bringing the total instructional time to 200 days. Time off includes two weeks each for fall and spring breaks, two weeks at Christmas, and four weeks each summer.
“I think it’s the most brilliant thing!” says Titile Keskessa, a parent at Resurrection. “Summer vacations are too long and the kids forget most of what they’ve learned.” She hopes Memphis and Germantown will also consider a year-round system. “It just makes sense.”
Jubilee tuition stays at approximately $6,000 per child, says David Hill, president of JCSN and program architect. Jubilee schools have 1,400 children, many of whom receive tuition assistance. Donors have made Jubilee schools “affordable to all,” according to Hill.
The year-round model is part of the Jubilee’s push for excellence. “We’re striving to become the best urban Catholic schools in the country,” says Hill. He was the lead writer for Teacher Effectiveness Initiative (TEI) for the legacy Memphis City Schools (MCS). He and the TEI team developed reforms that helped win that system a $92 million Intensive Partnership grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“My TEI work and the success of getting the grant inform what I do now in a big way,” Hill says. The biggest difference between MCS and Jubilee is that “here at Jubilee we are building on a faith-based foundation, which is immensely important.”
Erasing the summer slump
The eight Jubilee schools share an interesting history. Located in low-income neighborhoods, most closed in the last century and reopened in 1999, buoyed with ongoing help from anonymous donors. The eight are flourishing now, says Hill. Memphis Catholic Middle and High School joined the Jubilee network for the year-round initiative in October 2014.
“Jubilee Network is a distinct network within the diocese. Our schools have decided to go forward with the year-round calendar because they believe it is in the best interest of their students,” Hill says.
Eighty-seven percent of Jubilee students qualify for the free or reduced price meals. Jubilee’s kindergarten students performed in the 82 national percentile on reading exams. For grades 1 through 8, more than three-quarters of students met or exceeded growth on the Iowa Assessment Core Composite, a nationally-normed standardized test.
Daniel Salvaggio, principal of De La Salle Elementary at Blessed Sacrament, discussed some of the reasons for choosing a year-round model. “We noticed the trend that the students were learning at a wonderful rate at the end of the year. But after the summer, they had a real struggle to get back to that level.”
Call it the summer slump. A year-round system means “there’s more time for learning and less time for forgetting.” Hill says. “We expect our students’ achievements to rise and for our students to reach higher and higher levels of excellence because there will be more learning time.”
Studies show students aren’t the only ones who benefit. Teachers, even though they work more days, feel more refreshed. “That’s what the data revealed,” he says.
Dialogue started last year with teachers and parents; their input helped to shape the final plan. One challenge was how to manage the extra cost of utilities, salaries, and supplies for the 20 additional days. Donors came up with the funds. “Once these challenges were met, we moved ahead,” Salvaggio says.
“I think the added 20 days will help set the students up for success,” says Suzanne Horan, kindergarten teacher at De La Salle. She’s planning to use the additional days, which come at the beginning of the school year, to reinforce foundational skills.
Laura Battle, a guidance counselor at Resurrection, also anticipates benefits for Resurrection’s students and teachers. The breaks may help alleviate burnout and the added days will help Resurrection’s ESL students in particular by giving them more exposure to English and additional access to the school’s technology. Many Resurrection families lack computer service at home, she says.
Salvaggio smiles when asked about the children’s reactions. “They’ll probably say they’re weary of more school, but we’ve found over the years that they are very eager to come to school in the summer and check out books.”
Didier Aur, Resurrection’s principal, agreeds. “Everybody is extremely excited. I’ve not heard a single negative comment.”