Rural Students Take Fridays Off

In some rural areas, cuts in budgets have led to cuts in school days. Some districts in South Dakota have recently joined a growing list in that and other states that have reduced the regular school week to four days. Some parents fear that less time spent in school could be detrimental to learning. But is it?

By Harrison Howe

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Shortened Weeks 'Not Something to Be Scared Of'

More rest for teachers and students. Greater focus. Less absenteeism. Improved morale. Fewer dropouts. These are just some of the benefits of a 4-day school week as reported by districts engaged in the practice. And many report that academic performance or achievement are not negatively impacted by the lessened class time.

Four-day school weeks are not new. They began in New Mexico during the oil crisis in the 1970s, and for many years some rural districts have implemented shortened weeks where students have a long commute to school. But budget cuts in nearly every state over the past few years have forced some schools into the practice; recent statistics show that more than 120 districts across the nation have shortened the week by one day.

Some schools simply see no other way. They view the short week as a trade-off for saving programs and, in some cases, even jobs. In 2010, the switch to a 4-day week in the Peach County, Georgia school district saved nearly 40 teachers from being laid off. And the results were welcomed but rather unexpected: attendance, graduation rates and even test scores all improved!

The altered schedule does force schools to make some changes. In one South Dakota district, officials plan to add 30 minutes to the remaining days and reduce the duration of lunch breaks. Some time might also be taken from recess or physical education in elementary schools. But many districts stress that all required material will be covered in each class.

Despite that assurance, many parents do not share the enthusiasm some officials feel for 4-day weeks. One parent in South Dakota exclaimed that students will 'suffer' by not being in school for the traditional 5-day week. Even some students, while happy about the opportunity to sleep in on Fridays, displayed some doubts about the new schedule. 'The longer the weekend, the more the brain's going to slow down, I think,' said 16-year-old student Melissa Hessman to the Huffington Post.

But in many cases, the day without classes is not wasted. According to the National Center on Time and Learning, many schools use the fifth day for such things as teacher conferences and extracurricular activities. This, some say, leads to more productive class time (though the Center does report that some districts do not use additional class time efficiently or effectively).

Dean Christensen, superintendent of a 500-student district in South Dakota that adopted the shortened weekly schedule four years ago, has seen positive results and supports the practice. 'It's not something to be scared of,' he told the Huffington Post in August, 2011.

Find out how personalized learning opportunities are helping rural students enhance traditional education.

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