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Back to School for Barcroft

Barcroft Elementary, the only school in Arlington to offer classes year-round, opened its doors Thursday.

Many Arlington County children are squeezing in as much fun as possible before starting the 2005-2006 school year. But students of Barcroft Elementary headed back to school last Thursday to start a year of learning.

Barcroft is the only school in Arlington County to offer classes for most of the year. The modified school calendar was launched by the school's staff in August of 2003 to enhance student learning and give them something to do all year.

Barcroft's summer vacation is only a month long and students get fall, spring and winter breaks. Optional classes, called intersessions, are offered during the breaks to give students a chance to keep learning, according to Jeannette Kwok, Barcoft's intersession coordinator.

"We love it. We think it's good that classes start earlier in the summer and we like the intersession classes," said Heather Thompson, a Barcroft mom. Her daughter, Vanessa Thompson, 10, took dance and cheerleading intersession classes and loved it, said Thompson.

ABOUT 86 PERCENT of the children choose to keep learning most of the year by attending the intersession classes during their breaks, said Kwok. "They come because many parents work and they are not allowed to go outside because of safety issues. I've never seen the children come to school so ready to be back," said Kwok.

The school's shorter vacation also helps shorten the learning gap students experience when they are out of school in the summer, said Kwok. "Students forget things when they are out of school too long," she said.

The idea for Barcroft's modified school calendar program was sparked when Hughey-Guy read a feature on Timber Lane Elementary School, the first school in Fairfax County to implement a similar program. Hughey-Guy shared the idea with her staff.

"I liked the idea because otherwise these children sit home and watch television and have no stimulation," said Kwok. "The September to June break is for a farmer's schedule when the children are helping out in the field. We don't have that around here. There is more population, the economic needs are different and many parents work."

"We made sure the staff and the parents wanted the change," said Hughey-Guy. "We also had to get authorization from the county school board."

80 PERCENT OF the parents responded positively to the idea, according Hunter. "Only one or two families decided that it wasn't for them," said Hunter.

The Arlington County School Board also gave a go-ahead. "The principal of the school and the school faculty had done its work," said Robert Smith, Arlington Public Schools Superintendent. "There was support for the program."

Students, with help from parents and teachers, can pick which intersession classes they want to take, according to Jennifer Brooks, a pre-school special education teacher at Barcroft. "Sometimes we try to usher them into a class if they need help in an area, but for the most part, they pick what they want to be in," said Brooks.

"They are fun, interactive classes," said Carol Hunter, president of Barcroft's Parent-Teacher Association. During one break, her daughter Sarah Hunter, age 11, learned to hand-quilt while she studied American history.

The classes are designed to be hands-on, fun, and to comply with Virginia Standards of Learning tests, according to Hughey-Guy.

"I really like the program. Especially if two parents work, it's a good thing," said Lisa Rom, mother of Barcroft student Kittridge Rom, 9. "Instead of trying to line up three months of summer camp, you just need to worry about a few weeks here and there."

It's too soon to determine what impact the change has had on the student's academic results according to Hughey-Guy. "It will be a 3-5 year assessment," she said.

BUT TIMBER LANE Elementary, which adopted the modified school calendar program in 1998, has seen results.

Amy Beans, Intersession Coordinator for Timber Lane Elementary, said the modified school calendar has benefited students who are behind in some subjects. "Students who fail the Standard of Learning tests and take the intersession classes can pass them after they are done with the classes," said Beans.

Six other Fairfax County Schools have adopted the modified school calendar since Timber Lane Elementary started their program. Two Alexandria elementary schools are also year round, Mt. Vernon Community School and Samuel Tucker Elementary School.

Hughey-Guy said other Arlington Public Schools have asked her about Barcroft's program. So far, none of them have made the change.

The concept of year-round education is not just a local one. According to a report from the National Association for Year-Round Education, 3,009 public school across the nation had adopted year-round education programs in the 2004-2005 school year,

Superintendent Smith said if any Arlington County public school's faculty and community are willing to adopt a modified school calendar, they will most likely get support from county officials.

"If the school faculty and the community are willing to go that way, we are willing to support it," said Smith.