Early release days strain Everett after-school programs

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by CHRIS INGALLS / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @cjingalls

KING5.com

Posted on May 22, 2013 at 6:10 PM

Updated Saturday, Nov 23 at 12:08 AM

There's no such thing as "casual Fridays" at the Boys and Girls clubs that serve students in the Everett School District.

Friday is the district's weekly early release day, which means kids pour out of school 75 minutes early and head to after-school programs offered by the clubs.

“We have a lot more kids and we have to accommodate our staffing,” said Maria Quiroga, director of the Cascade Boys and Girls program.

The number of kids using the program on Fridays surges by 40 percent (from 45 to 50 on a typical day to 70 or more) -- an increase that taxes the donor-supported after-school programs, club officials said.

It's a example of the ripples across the community caused by the school district's decision to replace dozens of full school days with partial days, and it's happening in many other districts around the state.

The Boys and Girls Clubs offer supervision for the kids of working parents, including special “power hour” times when all the kids present must do their homework.

“Whatever the school district does, it's our goal to be here when families need us to be here,” said Marci Volmer, who oversees all the Boys and Girls Clubs in Snohomish County.

Parents of kids at the club are thankful, but they're not always convinced the after-school programs make up for lost class time.

“Their class time is cut by 15-20 minutes and they're not available after school, the teachers,” said Justine Locke, a single, working mother of two middle school students in the Everett school district.

Locke said she believes that early release Fridays are hurting her son's science grade, because it's one less day her son can't get help after school.

“Science is a class where they have to be at school to do the work,” said Locke.  “They need a lab, they need a lab partner, they need their teacher.”

This year, Everett joined many other school districts that already have dozens of partial school days on their calendars.

Everett added 26 early release Fridays this year, on top of a dozen half-days when elementary school students leave school 2.5 hour early so schools can conduct  parent-teacher conferences. It's nearly the equivalent of two weeks of school lost to early releases.
 
Everett teachers said the time after the kids leave is “sacred.”

“Our job isn't so simple anymore,” said 8th grade science teacher Rachel Sadri.  “It's not just teaching reading and writing. It's teaching complex skills.”

She was one of a half dozen middle school teachers who defended early release time during an interview with KING 5.

“In this group right here, there's 130 years of teaching experience,” said 7th grade math teacher Liz Frederickson.

The teachers said they stay at work late, long after students leave on Friday. They call it “teacher collaboration” time when they work together fine-tuning lesson plans and discussing individual students.

“It's crucial. I'm a better teacher. I'm a harder working teacher. I know more. I'm taught everyday by my colleagues,” said 8th grade special education teacher Carmen Boggs.

The teachers said they see positive results.

“When we have high quality instruction, within a week those students are going to learn more than if you just added minutes to the day,” said science teacher Craig Marais.

But one education expert questioned whether it's best for educators to use that time at the expense of class time with students.

“It's most likely to have an effect on kids who are poor and who are minority students,” said Dr. Dave Marcotte, a education researcher from the University of Maryland-Baltimore.

Marcotte and colleagues at the National Center on Time and Learning say that there has been very little study of the effects on student learning caused by partial school days.

Marcotte said his own research, which focused on declining test scores caused by weather-related school closures, could be indicative of the impact partial school days have on some students.

“Test scores will go down, especially for kids we might worry about most -– kids from low income families and kids who are minority students,” said Marcotte.

Everett teachers said their collaboration time allows them to identify – and help – struggling students.

“I would just tell those parents they have to trust what we are doing is best for their child because we are putting quality in,” said 8th grade teacher Teri Spargur.

Editor's note: The Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County rely on donations to fund their after-school programs. More information is online at bgcsc.org.

See Chris Ingalls' complete series, School's Out.

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