In an attempt to save money on transportation, heating, janitorial and clerical costs, some rural school districts in the West have implemented a four-day school week (“A troubling contagion: The rural 4-day school week,” Brookings, Mar. 3). The fifth day is devoted to projects and enrichment activities.
Although the cost-saving argument has never been realized due to fixed costs such as teacher salaries and equipment leases, the change has both its defenders and detractors. Many teachers like it because they have more free time than with a traditional schedule, and many parents like it because of the convenience of taking their children to doctors and dentists. Other teachers oppose it because every Monday is like the first day back from vacation, and low-income parents dislike it because so many hold two jobs.
Putting aside the cost-saving debate, I think the change can be beneficial if it is structured properly. We talk so much about enriching the curriculum, particularly for disadvantaged students. The conventional way of doing so has been through occasional field trips. While they can be effective, they are too infrequent. Setting aside every Friday for enrichment activities provides continuity. Doing so helps students see the connection between what they are learning in class and what exists outside.
When I was teaching American literature in the Los Angeles Unified School District, a colleague teaching “Contemporary American Problems” in social studies and I collaborated to provide context to both our classes. When her class was studying the labor movement, my class was reading Grapes of Wrath. We took both classes to a grapefield, where we asked students to take a basket and fill it with grapes. They were exhausted after a couple of hours in the hot sun. But the experience helped make what both of us were trying to teach come alive.
I’ve often wondered if learning would be enhanced if every Friday could be devoted to similar real-world activities. That’s why I think rural schools are on the right track.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.