Jul 25, 2023 - Education

Year-round school experiment kicks off in Richmond

Illustration of a backpack surrounded by elements of all four seasons.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Students at two city elementary schools returned to class this week in Richmond's first test of a year-round school schedule.

Why it matters: The pilot program is being watched especially closely in the city because of how far Richmond schools fell behind during the pandemic.

State of play: Students here faced some of the steepest learning loss in the country, per researchers at Harvard and Stanford, who calculated students fell a full year and a half behind on math and reading.

  • Those researchers have argued that the only way to catch up is to offer more instructional time.

What's happening: Students at Fairfield and Cardinal elementary schools returned to class Monday, 20 instructional days before their peers.

  • Their academic calendars will otherwise be the same as the rest of the district, retaining regular breaks and holidays.

What they're saying: “We could not be more thrilled to take this bold step for our kids,” Richmond Public Schools superintendent Jason Kamras told WRIC.

  • “The greatest gift we can give our children is our time. That’s what we’re giving our kids — 20 extra days of our time.”

Zoom out: In 2021, nearby Hopewell became the first city in the state to implement a district-wide, year-round school schedule.

And Chesterfield has been piloting a year-round schedule at two schools since 2018. Classes for those students began last week.

  • However, unlike the city's approach, Chesterfield does not add any mandatory additional school days, instead offering seven weeks of optional days throughout the year.
  • A recent review found small academic gains but limited participation in the optional programming.

Flashback: Coming out of the pandemic in Richmond, Kamras was pushing to move the entire district to a year-round schedule, but opposition from school board members, responding largely to criticism from teachers, sunk the proposal.

What's next: The rest of the district returns for classes on Aug. 21.

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