Harrison principal: Teachers and students benefit from modified school calendar

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The mid-year results of a Peoria Public School modified calendar test are in.

For the 2021-22 school year, Harrison Learning Center is conducting a pilot study to test a modified calendar. School started on Aug. 2, two weeks earlier than the traditional calendar.

There are two-week breaks in October and March, compared with the usual one week. School ends a day later than other schools, so students have June and July off.

“When it comes to October, you hit this wall. You need a reset, and the teachers were like, ‘That is what I needed,” said Fabian Daniels, principal at Harrison Learning Center.

During the first week of break, the school offered an academic boot camp, or ABC, where students could sharpen their skills and stay out of trouble. She said 61 students and 21 staff participated. For the spring break ABC, the school is aiming for 250 students to participate.

Daniels said students and staff returned to school refreshed and ready to go.

“Everything came back like a puzzle. It fit very well,” she said. “Discipline was down, attendance was better. Students came back right where we left off. They needed that reset as well.”

Daniels said the second week of break is dedicated to “rest, relax and rejuvenate.”

“It helped us when we returned to be in the place, in the mindset, [and] have the mental capacity to do what we do best as educators we are,” she said.

Leah Routley, a fourth-grade teacher at Harrison Learning Center, said the beginning of the year was tough.

“In August we didn’t like it so much, being here at school when everyone was enjoying their vacation,” she said.

But the extended October break is worth starting early, she said.

“It’s been great for my mental health,” she said. “I binge-watched Netflix shows, I read like five different books, I slept late, I relaxed. It was wonderful.”

Routley said she hopes other schools in the district get on board, but the modified schedule may not work for everyone.

“Our students in this neighborhood don’t have a lot of summer opportunities. In other schools, families are taking a vacation, kids are playing sports. Our students don’t have that,” she said.

Daniels said after spring break in March, parents will be given a survey to assess what they think about the calendar.

During Monday’s school board meeting, PPS Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat said she intends to bring the modified calendar option to a vote come January. She said it’s a strategy the district can use to get ahead of teacher and bus driver shortages.

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