Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/news/education/0801Mlongfellowbox31Z14.html

School tries long year
Added breaks, tutors intended to help test scores
The Arizona Republic
Aug. 1, 2003

Mel Meléndez
12:00 AM

Most Mesa parents will likely spend this weekend doing some last minute "back-to-school" shopping because Mesa Unified schools open for business Aug. 14.

But back-to-school shopping came two weeks early at Estela Valenzuela's home because her two children start class Monday at Longfellow Elementary, the district's only school on a modified year-round schedule.

"As a parent, I'm thrilled that my kids will spend more time learning in school," said Valenzuela, referring to her children, Cruz Gerardo, 7, and 9-year-old Karina. "I like that they start class two weeks earlier because kids forget much of what they've learned over the long summer break."

Longfellow, which has about 800 students, nearly 60 percent of them English language learners, is piloting the modified year-round calendar this school year.

School officials sold the district on the model after students' flagging standardized test scores nearly garnered Longfellow the lowest ranking under Arizona LEARNS, the state's accountability system.

More than 270 schools received the underachieving ranking, which could cost them federal funding and even result in a state takeover if the schools don't improve.

Under Longfellow's "nine weeks on, two weeks off" calendar, struggling students will receive free tutoring during the two-week breaks in October, December, March and June. The half-day sessions will include math, reading, foreign language, science, social studies, critical thinking and research.

The school receives nearly $285,000 annually in Title 1 funds, which should cover the additional tutoring costs, officials said.

Title 1 is a federal program that provides funding to schools with low-income students to help raise academic achievement.

"The tutoring will be very individualized to help each student progress, so we're hoping this will make a difference," said Angela Rasmussen, a Longfellow basic skills teacher. "You can't change the world in a day. But, hopefully, the frequent interventions will help."

Other benefits to the new calendar include easier implementation of "8 Step," a year-round program with frequent tests to measure students' progress and rejuvenated teachers and students thanks to the quarterly breaks, said Gina Zelek, a second-grade teacher at the school.

"The frequent breaks will really allow us to do more "one-on-one" remediation because once students fall behind it's often difficult to get them up to speed," she said. "Our parents, especially our Spanish speakers, are thrilled that their kids will receive this help."

Nearly 90 percent of Longfellow parents endorsed the calendar proposal in bilingual surveys sent out last school year, officials said.

Some initial concerns included child care issues and scheduling family vacations when children attend different schools, officials said.

The 75,000-student district's other 85 schools employ a more traditional 180-day calendar with one-week breaks in October and March and a two-week break in December.

Longfellow students also have a 180-day schedule but start 10 days early, finish the school year three days later, and have a seven-week summer vacation, instead of a 2˝-month break.

Officials will evaluate students' progress at the end of the 2003-04 school year, at which time the school could continue with the calendar or fall back in sync with other Mesa schools, officials said.

Reach the reporter at mel.melendez@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-7758.