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First Day of School Comes Early for Some D.C. Students

A pep-rally atmosphere greeted students and parents Monday, Aug. 8 at Turner Elementary School in southeast D.C. to begin the first day of school — a day that came a full two weeks earlier than for most of the city.

Turner is one of 10 city schools taking part in the District’s extended-school year, in which 20 extra days have been added for schools with at least 55 percent of its students not fully meeting expectations on the English and math portions of standardized assessment tests in the 2014-2015 academic year.

During that year, Turner had one of the lowest rankings among elementary schools for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, with 91 percent of its students missing or partially meeting proficiency level in math and 81 percent in English.

But Turner Principal Eric Bethel said it’s a state of affairs that he and his instructors are fully committed to fixing, as evidenced by the staff support for the lengthier school calendar.

“Almost 100 percent of the staff committed to stay on … for extended school year and usually teachers repower over the summer,” he said. “For them to commit shows they know how much of a big deal this is.”

Turner Elementary School Assistant Principal Lisa Rosado greets a student and hands him a Nutri-Grain breakfast bar on Aug. 8, the first day of the extended school year for D.C. public schools.

Photo by William J. Ford

Turner Elementary School Assistant Principal Lisa Rosado greets a student and hands him a Nutri-Grain breakfast bar on Aug. 8, the first day of the extended school year for D.C. public schools.

Fifth-grade students Talia Payne and Chance Wright, both 10, knows their last year in elementary school has a different vibe.

“I want my days back,” a smiling Talia said of the earlier-than-usual end to summer vacation for her and her classmates.

The 40 teachers will receive constant professional development throughout the year for the school’s 500 students for a school year that will now have 200 instructional days, compared to 180. The goal pushes for more time to teach the core subjects and electives such as art and music.

Turning the Page, a nonprofit organization based in Northwest D.C., will provide monthly events that includes a free dinner, parent workshops and book giveaways. The group will work with two other extended-year schools in Ward 8 – Garfield Elementary and Hart Middle schools.

The other schools that opened Monday, with the majority in Wards 7 and 8 east of the Anacostia River, include H.D. Cooke, Hendley, King, Randle Highlands and Thomas elementary schools and Johnson and Kelly Miller middle schools.

Raymond Education Campus in Northwest, with students in grades pre-K through eighth, was the pilot school for the program last year.

The remaining 104 D.C. public schools won’t begin until Aug. 22.

DCPS Chief of Schools John Davis said the mayor’s office provided $5 million that will mainly pay salaries of teachers for the two months added to the extended-year schedule.

“Every single year we see kids that end on reading level and when they come back to school they’re in a lower reading level,” Davis said. “We know that the lost, or that lull, is really going to be dissipated by the fact they’re only going to get off three weeks next year. We want to give them a little bit of time off, but we don’t need to make it nine weeks.”

Outside Help

Although schools are looked upon to help shelter and feed children, state and nonprofit organizations provided some assistance over the weekend.

In Virginia, consumers received tax-free time items Aug. 5-7 on purchases of school supplies, clothing, backpacks.

Maryland’s period of tax-free shopping for purchases $100 or less will run from Aug. 14-20.

Prince George’s County schools held its annual “Back to School Fair” on Saturday, Aug. 6 in Upper Marlboro, where students received free school supplies as well as vaccines for children entering kindergarten, seventh grade, or repeating ninth grade.

On that day in D.C., Trayon White hosted a fair in Southeast that provided all these free gifts: school supplies, food, haircuts and other community resources. White, who will run unopposed for the Ward 8 city council seat in November after winning the Democratic primary in June, wants to serve on council’s education committee.

“I think education has always been a great equalizer in American society,” White said outside Turner elementary Monday. “We have to utilize our resources in educating the whole child and not just teaching to a test. Our children can offer so much more with the gifts that God gave them.”

Turning the Page, a nonprofit organization based in northwest D.C., will provide monthly events that includes a free dinner, parent workshops and book giveaways. The group will work with two other extended-year schools in Ward 8 — Garfield Elementary and Hart Middle schools.

The other schools that opened Monday, with the majority in Wards 7 and 8 east of the Anacostia River, include:

• H.D. Cooke, Hendley, King, Randle Highlands and Thomas elementary schools; and

• Johnson and Kelly Miller middle schools.

Raymond Education Campus in Northwest with students in grades pre-K through eighth became the District’s pilot program last year.

All 11 schools will receive a weeklong break during the second week of October. In addition, each school will have eight “intersession” days during the winter and spring breaks for students in need of additional help.

At Turner, 11 members from City Year DC chanted, sang and even danced to cheer on students as they walked toward the front door and began a new school year. City Year, an AmeriCorps program with an office in northwest D.C., will help mentor and tutor students to improve literacy, math and social skills.

Jarvis Nash, impact manager for City Year DC, said there’s staff who also work at Turner’s feeder schools, Johnson Middle and Ballou High.

“It’s all about making sure students are successful, especially on the first day of school,” Nash said. “We’re optimistic about it being a good year.”

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