The roughly 1,200 students in a pilot program testing the benefits of a longer academic year will return to classes on Monday, but not to school buildings.
Arcola and Roscoe R. Nix elementary schools in Silver Spring last year began a pilot program that adds 30 days to the academic calendar. The hope is that the extra class time would prevent “summer learning loss,” which researchers say is more likely to affect low-income and minority students.
The 30 additional days of classes allow teachers to dive deeper into curriculum and offer more enrichment activities, like field trips, experiments and community service activities, that might be difficult to fit into a traditional school year.
The initiative is especially important this year, district leaders said, as students switched to online learning in March, limiting the time they were interacting with teachers and instruction.
At both Arcola and Roscoe Nix, about a quarter of all students are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals, an indicator the county uses to identify families in poverty.
On Monday, the schools will begin the 2020-21 academic year, eight weeks before the rest of the district.
The first week of classes will focus on “establishing a safe, warm and welcoming learning environment,” which would be the same focus if students were learning in person, according to Brenda Lewis, director of MCPS’ Department of Elementary Curriculum and Districtwide Programs.
The second through fifth week of school will include a gradual buildup of classes, including daily English and science lessons, with the addition of art, music, physical education, social studies, science and library media.
“This gradual buildup will serve for students to become comfortable in a virtual learning environment, with the full instructional schedule implemented by week six,” Lewis said.
In mid-August, classes will dismiss for two weeks for a brief break before resuming on Aug. 31, when all other Montgomery County public schools begin the 2020-21 year.
MCPS staff members on Monday presented to the school board several options for when the school district resumes classes in the fall.
Among the ideas were full-time remote learning, a hybrid of in-person and remote classes, and the possibility of switching between the two, depending on health conditions.
There was no discussion about students returning to schools full-time. School officials say it is “most likely there will not be a full reopening” on the first day of school.
But in late July and early August, small groups of students taking summer classes will be welcomed into buildings to do some programs.
That will act as a trial for the school district to “gain a better understanding of what we need to learn as we prepare to return to schools in the fall,” school officials said.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org