Colo. among 5 states to add school hours

Four districts to begin 3-year program in 2013

LAKEWOOD – About 5,000 youngsters in Colorado could be staying in class longer because of a new national grant for extended school days.

Four districts – Denver, Boulder, and Adams and Jefferson counties – will add at least 300 hours of learning time to the calendar in some schools starting in 2013.

Announcing the experiment in Washington, D.C., Gov. John Hickenlooper said Monday expanding school hours can lead to dramatic changes to how school days are structured.

“Change allows you an opportunity to have a catalyst to dramatically change everything in a much shorter period of time,” he said.

Colorado was among five states participating in a three-year pilot program to increase class time in some school districts starting in 2013.

Teachers and principals nervously embraced the idea, and a few students weren’t entirely opposed, either.

At Stober Elementary in Wheat Ridge, just west of Denver, fourth-grade teacher Jeanette Martinez said the extra time would be welcome – but she wondered where teachers would get time for planning and other work outside the instructional hours.

“It’s hard to get through all the curriculum in the time we have,” said Martinez, who was leading a writing exercise about visiting the zoo.

After her pupils went to recess, Martinez wondered, “The extra hour is cool, but where are we going to get everything else done?”

Hickenlooper said it will be an opportunity for the state to also consider other changes, including what technology to use in teaching, and when teachers begin and end their workdays.

Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee are also participating. Federal, state and district funds will cover costs, with help from the Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time and Learning.

“The goal here is not more time, the goal here is more learning,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Hickenlooper said school districts share a common theme when speaking about what their needs are.

“The one continuous kind of common theme that goes again and again is that we need more time with kids,” he said. “That extra time with their teachers and within a structured setting means all the world.”

The governor’s point was echoed by Stober principal Andrew Zapotoczny, who once worked at a school with extended hours in the library for students and their families.

The school was in an area where many didn’t have home Internet access, and Zapotoczny said he didn’t mind staying late without extra pay.

“I really do believe we are community centers, not just schools. Whatever we have to do to make learning a priority, we believe in it,” he said.

Surprisingly, some of his students agreed. Several interviewed didn’t mind extra time in the classroom.

“We’ll have more time to hang out with our friends ... and we’ll get even smarter,” predicted 9-year-old Melody Goldanloo, a fourth-grader.

Kids drew the line at summer school, though.

“That’s a ‘no way’ for me,” explained fellow fourth-grader Olivia Nevadomski. “It’s for sleepovers, staying up late and sleeping in. No summer school. Please, no summer school.”