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20 Minutes Added to School Day

Loudoun elementary school day to extend next year.

NINE-YEAR-OLD Connor Gallihugh, a third grader at Potowmack Elementary School in Potomac Falls, is not happy. "It's adding more time to school, and I don't really like school," he said Sunday.

A plan to add 20 minutes to each elementary school day has left some teachers questioning its effectiveness.

Julie Ruhlen, a Loudoun County reading specialist for 25 years who teaches at Lovettsville Elementary School, said her students lose some of their attentiveness after lunch. "Children are tired already at the end of the day," she said. "On those days when we, as teachers, don't have breaks, typically, they don't have any breaks either."

Vicki Petrosky, a music teacher for 22 years and who teaches at Banneker and Hamilton elementary schools, said a longer day would be especially difficult for the younger students.

"I know from the children I see, particularly the first graders, at the end of the day now, they really are done," she said. "This has the potential to be counterproductive."

Superintendent of Schools Edgar Hatrick has planned the extended day to begin in the fall, adding 100 minutes to the week. He said a demand for academic excellence led to the decision.

"The imposition of more and more standards and the expectations that students will perform at ever better levels … requires that we have enough instructional time to allow students to do just that," he said.

TEN-YEAR-OLD JORDIN Westbrook, a fourth grader at Guilford Elementary School in Sterling Park, described her initial reaction to the 20 extra minutes. "I'm like, 'Whaaat?'"

She said that school was fun until homework got so hard. "I don't like to go to school period," she said. "It's boring."

Her solution? Pretend to be sick, often, and stay home, she said.

Jordin said she likes science, social studies and language arts, but her favorites are recess, lunch and physical education.

Mary Tunstall, a South Riding parent and president of the Little River Elementary School Parent Teacher Association, said she does not believe the extra time is going to be difficult for the children. "I just wish it was on the other end of the day," she said. "It's hard enough to get to school at eight o'clock."

HATRICK said the longer school day would help kindergarten teachers, who have only 18 to 25 minutes between their morning and afternoon kindergarten classes. The extra time will give them 38 to 45 minutes to eat lunch and prepare for the next group of students.

"We've had a request from the LEA to please try to help the kindergarten teachers," he said.

Mac Corwine, president of the Loudoun Education Association, conceded there was merit to that side of the issue.

Sheryl Ligon, president of the Sterling Elementary School PTA, said she has been with the kindergarten children during the transition. One teacher grabs her lunch while the other walks the children to the bus. Then they trade places, with the first teacher walking the afternoon kindergarten children to the classrooms and the other grabbing her lunch.

"That's a very tight turnaround," Ligon said. "Twenty more minutes certainly makes sense."

GWENN VALENTINE, a kindergarten teacher at Potowmack Elementary School, said she is excited about it.

"We'll actually have time to get a bite … and do some planning in between classes," she said. "Now it's very difficult, especially if the buses are late picking up the morning children, and the afternoon children arrive. It's like the two sessions blend together."

Valentine, who has been teaching four years, conceded that her viewpoint is not shared by first through fifth grade instructors. "The only teachers who are excited about it are the kindergarten teachers."

CORWINE, ON BEHALF of the teachers, raised three objections: the administration failed to consult the teachers before making the decision; the extra time is not needed; and the change will create havoc among parents, students and teachers in some of the western schools.

"Where is it going to be used?" he asked. "How is it going to be implemented?"

Hatrick said teachers' control over how they allot their time to subjects will remain unchanged. "My hope is that the extra 20 minutes will take some of the perceived 'pressure' off the instructional day."

He said he has talked to teachers for the past five years during faculty meetings about the possibily of lenthening the day. Many instructors said they needed more time with the students to meet standards of learning requirements, he said.

School Board member J. Warren Geurin, chairman of the Curriculum and Instruction Committee, said his panel would take the matter up at 7 p.m., May 23, at the board's room on North Street in Leesburg. The purpose will be to understand how the extra minutes will be implemented, he said.

CORWINE CITED Lovettsville Elementary as one western Loudoun school that would have trouble with the new schedule. It will start at 7:50 a.m., instead of its current 9 a.m.

Ruhlen, a teacher there, said the 20-minute extension is not the only reason for the early opening. Busing issues and a need to set all elementary schools at the same starting time also are responsible, she said.

The elementary schools' new hours, which total 6 hours and 45 minutes, will be similar to those of middle and high schools, which have 6 hour, 48 minute days.

In addition, the administration has decided to start middle and high schools 10 minutes later next year. MIddle schools will start at 8:30 a.m. instead of 8:20 a.m. and high schools will open at 9 a.m. instead of 8:50 a.m.

The elementary school's extended day will help reduce the number of late buses, said Wayde Byard, spokesman for Loudoun County Public Schools said. The schools' Transportation Department currently has one hour to deliver the students, whereas Fairfax County has one hour and 45 minutes and Prince William has two hours.

Geurin said he supports lengthening the school day, in part, because the curriculum has expanded in recent years. "We've added things to the curriculum without adding time," he said.

The elementary Spanish course, for example, was offered initially to first graders at 10 pilot schools during the 2001-2002 school year. As the program expanded to the other schools, it was offered to additional grade levels. By next year, the subject will be available to all first through fifth graders.