Longer school days ahead for some students in 5 states

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Thousands of students in five states may be spending more time at school.

More than 9,000 students are attending select, high-poverty schools in Connecticut, Colorado, Massachusetts and New York that have developed expanded school schedules as part of the TIME Collaborative, or Time for Innovation Matters in Education. Some of those schools are already using the extra time for additional instruction and enrichment.

A second group of schools in those same four states and Tennessee was announced Wednesday. They're all planning a redesign of their schedules for the 2014-15 year, although some schools in the end may not participate. Those schools serve about 13,000 students.

The 11 districts that are considering adding some of their schools, or additional schools, to the program are Boulder Valley and Denver in Colorado; Bridgeport, Meriden and Windham in Connecticut; Boston and Salem in Massachusetts; Rochester and Syracuse in New York; and Knox County and Metro Nashville, Tenn.

In many cases, they would be using the extra 300 hours a year for things there isn't enough time for during a regular school day, such as trying out personalized learning technologies and studying world cultures, healthy living, foreign languages, fitness and healthy living, and even scrapbooking.

"We really did this because we really believe that students can benefit from these enrichment activities and the typical school does not accommodate all of that learning," said Meriden Superintendent Mark Benigni.

In Meriden, the Casimir Pulaski Elementary School started to increase its school day last year, and Benigni said attendance rates and performance on test scores all improved. This year, the school day was increased by 100 minutes at Pulaski, as well as a second elementary school. Two other Meriden elementary schools are in the planning stages to expand their days in 2014-15.

Benigni said the response from students, parents and teachers has been positive. In some cases, the students get to choose which classes they want to take.

"Whenever we can add voice and choice, we know that good things can happen," he said. The town's initiative was a collaborative effort with the teachers' union, which agreed to flexible scheduling and a stipend to accommodate pay for extra hours. The American Federation of Teachers also provided Meriden with grant funding.

In Boulder County, students at Pioneer Elementary are using an extra 45 minutes a day for technology instruction and independent study. The district plans to lengthen the school day at another elementary school next year.

To help ease the transition for educators, "we're cutting down on meetings, making things more flexible. It's pretty exciting," said Sandy Ripplinger, assistant superintendent for elementary education in Boulder.

The average school day in the U.S. is 6.7 hours, according to a recent survey by the U.S. Department of Education.

The five participating states are using a mix of federal, state and district funding to cover the additional 300 hours of instruction and enrichment. The Ford Foundation is providing some grant funding, while the National Center on Time and Learning is providing technical help to schools.

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Associated Press writer Kristen Wyatt in Denver contributed to this report.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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