The Longest Year: One Idea for Failing Schools

What if July 4th wasn't the middle of summer vacation but it's sudden end? Starting this summer, it will be for students at one Denver school. The essential elimination of a long summer vacation is seen as a solution to an underperforming school.

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year round school denver manual high

The Never-Ending School Year

For most students in Denver Public Schools, the school year is 171 days long. Starting this summer, though, students at Manual High School will have an extra 39 days, for a total of 210. Their school day will also be extended by one hour, with the day beginning at 7:45 a.m. and ending at 3:45 p.m.

The extra days will be carved out of what was summer vacation. The 2012-2013 year will begin on July 9th, the Monday after the 4th of July, and end on June 14, 2013. While their peers at other schools will start the year in late August and finish while it's still May, Manual students will have a summer break that lasts not much longer than their winter break in December.

An Innovation School

Other schools throughout the country are experimenting with the concept of year-round school. The goal is to limit the knowledge loss that occurs over an extended period away from school. Yet those schools simply take the long summer vacation and break it up into shorter vacations spread throughout the year. Manual High School is unique in so dramatically extending the year.

But such innovation isn't new for the school. Manual was shut down in 2006 because its enrollment was dropping and its test scores were poor. After reopening a year later, the school looked for ways to get creative. In 2009, Manual became Denver's first school to apply for and earn designation as an innovation school. This allows Manual to make decisions that are exempt from district and union guidelines.

In School But Out of the Classroom

Students at Manual may have a longer school year, but they won't spend all of that time in the classroom. Each year, 25 days are dedicated for experiential learning that'll occur off campus. If fundraising goes well, students can expect to travel throughout Colorado and across the country to experience for themselves the things about which they're learning. For example, students may follow up a unit on the Civil Rights Movement with a tour of notable historic sites in the South that pertain to their lessons.

While attending school in the July heat requires the addition of industrial air conditioners, it may be worthwhile for the added educational benefit. Manual is attempting to turn itself around while providing a major benefit to its students. Teachers will be paid 25% more for the extra time, families will incur no extra costs for the experiential learning and, if it succeeds, the students will learn more than ever before.

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