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Back to School at Barcroft

South Arlington year-round elementary becomes first in county to start.

Clouds overhead made it an unlikely day for trips to the pool. But it was still summer, after all, when Jasmit Sarai walked into Barcroft Elementary School to join his third grade class. Sarai, however, didn’t mind going back to school nearly a month ahead of the rest of the county. “I think it’s fine,” he said. “I’ll get a head start.”

Barcroft is now the first county school to embark on a modified, year-round calendar. Students will still receive 182 days of instruction, divided into four grading periods of roughly nine weeks each. But each of those grading periods will be separated by about two weeks, and summer vacation becomes shorter.

Few consider that a problem. “I think having two months off every summer is kind of too much.” said Colin Lovett, as he dropped off sons Liam, 7, and Quinn, 5.

School officials say year-round school could improve student achievement. Over a typical summer vacation, students forget much of what they learned during the year. Teachers say they spend weeks on review before they can begin new material. Shorter breaks could help students retain more, and decrease review time. “I think it makes for a better continuity,” said parent Lisa Ragain. Students will also have the opportunity to take remedial or enrichment courses during intersessions.

“We have more flexibility and choices,” said Lovett. Vacations can come in October, for instance, instead of being limited to July and August, or Liam and Quinn can stay in class.

Liam would opt for math, given a choice. “I already know some multiplication,” he said.

YEAR-ROUND SCHOOL received widespread support from Barcroft parents. County officials gave families the option of attending Barrett Elementary, the closest school to Barcroft, if parents disapproved of the new calendar.

Only two families exercised that option, according to Barcroft assistant principal Jamie Borg. The rest of Barcroft’s nearly 500 students stayed put.

Jamal Hamza chose to transfer his son Islah into Barcroft this year for preschool. Being on a different schedule from other county schools makes Barcroft students feel special, Hamza said, and helps them bond with each other.

Despite the new starting date, it was the same old routine for some. Teachers reported three days early, to organize their rooms and prepare lessons. Tiera Bonnefond, Barcroft PTA president, took her two sons school shopping to get them ready for today. “It’s just as easy as that,” she said. “It’s just the new school year moved up a month. It’s really not that different.”

School officials will monitor student progress at Barcroft to determine whether other Arlington schools should adopt the year-round calendar as well.