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Shortened school week has benefits for Oldham-Ramona - Daily Leader Extra : Top Stories

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Shortened school week has benefits for Oldham-Ramona

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Posted: Tuesday, May 7, 2019 3:35 pm

Little is known about the effects of a four-day school week, according to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures. However, for rural schools across the nation, it's becoming an increasingly more attractive schedule.

For teachers and administrators at Oldham-Ramona, anecdotal evidence is enough to reinforce their belief that the district made the right decision when it adopted that schedule beginning with the 2010-11 school year.

"I think it enhances the education of our students at Oldham-Ramona," Superintendent Michael Fischer said.

The school district originally considered the altered calendar to attract more students. Enrollment had dropped to around 110, with only 85 students actually in the building and others enrolled through the Spring Lake Colony. Districts which dropped below 100 were being required to consolidate.

"If they went to a four-day week, would they bring in more open enrollments?" school officials asked themselves, according to Fischer.

At the time, both he and his wife Maren taught in other districts, but they lived in the Oldham-Ramona School District and their children would be impacted by the decision made. They were invested in the outcome of the discussions taking place.

Other community members were equally invested and began a group to promote the school: M.O.R.E. (Making Oldham Ramona Excellent). Alumni in the area were also contacted if their children attended school in other districts. The full court press was successful.

Student enrollment in Oldham-Ramona currently stands at 170 with about 50 students open-enrolled. Fischer thinks the decision to adopt the four-day week contributed to this, but he also believes other efforts were instrumental in saving the school.

However, the benefits of adopting the schedule go beyond saving the school. There are some cost savings, but they are minimal: paraprofessionals, bus drivers and food service employees don't work on Friday, and the district only runs one bus on Friday.

"Ultimately, you're not saving a whole lot," Fischer said.

The primary benefits are twofold: flexibility and the ability to offer students one-to-one help.

The school has 157 contact days, which is approximately three weeks less than districts which have 172 contact days. However, Fridays are not considered contact days and students who need assistance come in on Fridays to work with their teachers.

Between 8:30-10:30 a.m., students get the individualized attention they need. Kindergarten teacher Rebecca Hansen said this is especially beneficial when a student has been sick or needs help to grasp a concept.

"It's nice to give them that time without the distractions," she said.

Having taught for more than a decade before joining the staff at Oldham-Ramona, Hansen has had experience with both schedules. She prefers having time set apart for addressing students' needs. Previously, she would have to squeeze those efforts into the regular class day.

Now, if she notices a student is struggling, Hansen makes a note of it. The child's parents are contacted, and the student comes in for a couple of hours on Friday to receive help. In any given week, Hansen may have two or three students come in on Friday.

"It's really important they get a good foundation," she explained.

For students, "Friday school," as it is called, is both a carrot and a stick. They know they can get the help they need -- and most don't mind coming in -- but some may be motivated to work a little harder so they can have a three-day weekend.

"For some of our students, it's a reward -- getting that Friday off," Fischer said.

The flexible Friday schedule is also beneficial for the school's fine arts program. Students -- many of whom are involved in a variety of activities -- can dedicate several hours of concentrated time to practices and rehearsals.

The staff benefits by having time for lesson planning, for professional development and for informal team building. Last Friday, staff members held a potluck after the students left.

"We'll have a celebration today because we have a couple staff members getting married this summer," Fischer said.

However, no plan is perfect. Fischer admits there are some challenges.

Childcare can be a challenge for some families. Finding paraprofessionals to work a 32-hour week, rather than a 40-hour week, can be tough at times, he said.

School athletics -- especially Friday practices -- are a challenge. Oldham-Ramona is in a co-op with the Rutland School District, which has a five-day week.

"In an ideal world, our calendars would look exactly the same," Fischer said, adding that they do make it work.

The final challenge Fischer noted involves academics. He said teachers need skill to cover curriculum standards in fewer days.

"You have to have the same core teaching skills, but there is a difference," he said, commending the Oldham-Ramona teachers for their ability to embrace that difference.

"Ultimately, our goal is to do what's best for our kids in Oldham-Ramona," Fischer said.

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