Published: January 8, 2014
Let it snow.
Lewis-Palmer School District 38 is adding five minutes to the start of the school day for its five elementary schools beginning Monday.
It's a way to trick Mother Nature and to cope with state rules that require specific hours of "seat time" for students each year.
And those 300 seconds a day might boost learning a bit too, teachers say.
Since the Monument-area district sits atop the Palmer Divide, administrators often must add more days to the school calendar than is required by other area districts to make up for lost time when snow days or two-hour delays are called.
Already this school year D-38 officials have used 3.3 snow days out of the 8.1 they had written into the elementary school schedule. Under state guidelines, elementary students are required to have 968 hours of in-class instruction per school year.
The five additional minutes per elementary day for the rest of the year adds up to 1.1 more days - just in case the time is needed.
"We were worried we might run out of snow days because we are getting into the time when the worst weather usually appears, and April is often the worst month up here," said Bob Foster, director of personnel and student services.
The state requires 1,056 hours of seat time for middle and high school students. D-38 factored 10 snow days for its middle and high schools and they are on target, so no changes were made in their start times.
D-38 officials also scheduled one professional development day for teachers at the end of the school year and they are squirreling it away in case things get desperate.
Starting Monday, elementary schools will start at 8:50 a.m., and school buses will do pickups five minutes earlier.
The weather hasn't been as bad as in 1997 when the district lost a week of school. "I remember that one because my wife got stuck in a snowbank and they closed the highway," said Foster.
Many school districts wait until the last weeks of the school year and add a couple of class days to make up needed time, or plan a few long days, as Colorado Springs School District 11 has done. (District 11 has used only two snow days this school year, officials said.) Some districts hold classes on Saturdays if they really get behind.
D-38 officials said they don't like to extend the school year because it's disruptive for families and parents get unhappy if they have vacations or other plans.
That's why administrators figured out a way they hope will ensure this school year doesn't go past May 23 for elementary students.
The district has been advertising the change in emails and reminders on the district website.
So what in the world can a teacher do with five more minutes of instruction a day?
Teachers say it will give them a bit more instruction time. These days, classes are so structured and fast-paced that it gives a tad of wiggle room.
"So much time leaks out of the day, transitions between classes and lunches, so getting five minutes back can help," said Dave Jones, fifth-grade teacher at Lewis-Palmer Elementary School. "Maybe another multiplication problem?"
At the start of each day his class works on a "word of the day," focusing on the origins of a word, its part of speech, its spelling and its meaning.
"I could see this allowing us to dig deeper, look at multiple meanings."
Susan Szilagyi, who teaches half-day kindergarten, says there is so much information to cover that every minute counts.
"If you subtract the snack and recess and specials (art, physical education) I have an hour and a half for basics. So five minutes is a lot, believe it or not."
What happens if the district doesn't need all those built-in snow days?
No, the students don't get out early.
"They are the beneficiary of the extra education," Foster said.
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