What should a longer elementary day look like in District 303?
Innovative activities centered around art, music and movement could be incorporated into a longer elementary school day starting next fall in St. Charles Unit District 303.
The 40-minute extension, negotiated in a teachers contract this past spring, aims to give elementary students more time to explore and engage in learning opportunities outside their core subjects, school board President Carolyn Waibel said.
A "think tank" group of parents, teachers and administrators is now developing a plan for what a seven-hour day might look like -- compared to six hours and 20 minutes -- when it takes effect in the 2020-21 school year.
"(The district) really wanted to add value to the elementary day," Waibel said. "It's really important for our kids to be well-rounded in what types of topics they're learning."
Helping to blaze the trail is the Richmond Intermediate School, where a seven-hour day was implemented more than eight years ago, St. Charles Education Association President Joe Blomquist said.
The extra 40 minutes were approved as part of a memorandum of understanding between the district and the association, he said, giving the third- through fifth-graders at Richmond additional time to focus on technology and foreign language.
A similar concept is now being applied at the other 10 elementary facilities with increased electives such as art, music, physical education and other "enrichment opportunities," said Blomquist, who has been involved in the "think tank" discussions. The additional time also creates more opportunities for collaboration from a teacher's perspective, he said.
A survey was sent to district parents at the beginning of the process asking them to rank skills in order of importance, and provide additional comments for the "think tank" to consider.
One common response, for example, was that parents wanted to make sure their kids had enough opportunity for movement throughout the day, district spokeswoman Carol Smith said. That doesn't necessarily mean recess will be longer, she said, but perhaps students will get more "brain breaks" or extended physical education classes.
"There are still plenty of details to work out over the next several months," Blomquist said, "but we are making great strides toward the finished product."
To accommodate the longer day, the school board this week approved changing the elementary start time from 8:40 a.m. to 8 a.m., ensuring the school day still ends by 3 p.m. Half-day kindergarten will run from 8 to 10:55 a.m. and 12:05 to 3 p.m.
Though more an added bonus than a primary concern, the change actually improves transportation efficiency in the mornings, district officials said.
In order to complete their elementary routes on time, bus drivers currently have to drop off middle schoolers at 8 a.m. -- 30 minutes before their school day starts. With the earlier elementary start times next year, buses can transport those younger students first, then complete their middle school routes, eliminating excessive idle time and teacher supervision.
Middle and high school start and end times will not change.
While the district's calendar committee was working out the logistics, the "think tank" has spent three meetings discussing the structure of a longer elementary day over the past few months. Members of that group are expected to give a presentation to the newly created citizen advisory committee during its Jan. 23 meeting.
District officials said they plan to provide more complete information about the school day and additional enrichment opportunities before the registration process begins next spring.