Recently, questions have been raised about time on learning in our elementary schools.
These questions are actually part of a larger criticism of a pilot Universal Breakfast program that is being implemented at Beeman and Veterans. This will be discussed below.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is clear on its expectations for time on learning. Schools are to have 900 hours dedicated for that purpose.
The school day is 6 hours, or 360 minutes, long. Of that day, 45 minutes are scheduled for lunch and recess, inclusive of student travel time.
Contrary to recent public statements, elementary schools do not have homeroom as high schools do. Students typically begin their day with independent work and/or social learning activities while attendance is taken.
Years ago, our schools had a 15-minute morning snack and recess during the school day. Our schools no longer have this recess, and schoolwork is done during snack time except in kindergarten, which is not subject to the 900-hour requirement.
Recent statements also claim 15 minutes of transition time, yet students do not regularly pass between classrooms as they do in high school, and many specialist classes (art and music) are conducted in the classroom, so students do not move. Students may leave the classroom 2-3 times per week for physical education, which in our schools constitutes a one-minute walk.
An actual account of time on learning in our elementary schools is as follows:
Out of a 6-hour day, there are 5.25 hours for time on learning when we subtract lunch, recess, and travel to and from class;
Over 180 days, this would total 945 hours;
Remove 2.25 hours time for 11 release days (the June 3 Early Release was optional; that will now be a full day of school). That brings the total to 920.25 hours;
From the 920.25, we can assume 4 minutes per day of transition for daily specialists totaling 12 hours; this brings the total to 908.25 hours;
If we allow (generously) a full hour per year to account for health screenings (postural, BMI, fluoride), the day’s length is reduced by 20 seconds per day, lowering the total hours to 907.2.
Snack time is a working snack in our schools. Students read, write in journals, and often complete daily math practice. For the sake of argument, let’s add two minutes for opening the snack. That brings the total number of hours to 901.2. We meet the DESE requirement.
Now, a word about breakfast. In a press release dated March 6, the Department of Elementary, along with the Department of Agricultural Resources, the New England Dairy & Food Council, the School Nutrition Association of Massachusetts, and Project Bread issued a challenge to districts statewide to increase and sustain student participation in the School Breakfast Program by 35 percent.
In Gloucester, only 29 percent of students eligible for free or reduced meals have breakfast in school. To meet the state’s challenge, we are piloting a breakfast in class program at Beeman and Vets (those are the only 2 schools where state reimbursement make this a viable option).
We consider these trial programs to be a moral obligation and an act of conscience. And, research shows that students who have breakfast perform better, and have better concentration. Schools also have fewer behavioral issues.
The breakfast program will help all students in our elementary classrooms. (http://bestpractices.nokidhungry.org/school- breakfast; www.frac.org;). In essence, these benefits improve the quality of time on learning for all students.
For this program to succeed, however, students must be at work during breakfast. Plans are in place to insure that happens. If we find that we cannot guarantee that students are engaged in time on learning during breakfast, then we will close the programs.
But, if we can manage to maintain time on learning, while improving the quality of learning for all students throughout the day, then we feel obligated to give it a try.
Richard Safier is superintendent of the Gloucester Public Schools.