LA CROSSE, Wis. -- These kindergarteners at Hamilton elementary School are working hard in their reading centers today.
"These kids are doing really well," said Traci Schneider, Hamilton Elementary School kindergarten teacher. "We're taking our time through the curriculum and it's working."
But even after a year of hard work, statistics show the students at Hamilton are struggling to read at grade level particularly after the 3 month summer break.
"What's happening is we're having more and more kids who are actually slipping over the course of a summer," said Steve Michaels, Hamilton Elementary School principal. "And so more and more of the next school year is actually back filling what they lost during the summer. And then we're playing the catch up game trying to keep them up to grade level."
So, about a year and a half ago, when Mr. Michaels became principal at Hamilton, the staff started talking about the mission of their school and how they could help their students succeed.
"Last fall, we began talking about what kind of school do we want to look like," said Michaels. "And the question of a year round school surfaced. And as we continued those dialogs over the course of last year, that came back again and again."
Last Spring, Mr. Michaels visited Longfellow 45-15 in Rochester, Minnesota. Longfellow has been a year-round elementary school for 15 years in the Rochester School District. The students begin school at the end of July and continue throughout the year on a 45 days on and then 15 days off rotation. The students then end their school year on the same day as the rest of the district which is in June.
"It gives kids a break when they need it," said Michaels. "Staff a break when they need it. It prevents that extended break that we're seeing students regress over."
However, the district is aware of the research that states a year-round school doesn't completely eliminate the regression issue during breaks.
"I'll tell you that research varies on this," said Troy Harcey, La Crosse School District Associate Superintendent of Instruction. "Whether that's purposeful or not. In a year-round school, lets say it's a 45-15 model, those 15 days... some research studies would indicate that there's some regression even in 15 days. Is it less impactful than 3 months? Certainly. So, we just need to make sure we're being very mindful of both the pros and cons with the year-round option."
For Mr. Michaels, another important pro is the possibility of closing the achievement gap between minority students and white students, as well as, students living in poverty and those who aren't. The socio-economic demographics at Longfellow 45-15 in Rochester closely mirror those at Hamilton which has an 80 percent free and reduced priced lunch rate; the highest in the la Crosse district.
"Their scores are indicating that they're really closing a gap," said Michaels. "That the students are at grade level almost across the board. And that's really exciting."
And it's exciting for the teachers at Hamilton, too, where all of the staff members are interested to learn more about the potential for a year-round school. This includes Traci Schneider who previously taught at Longfellow 45-15.
"The demographic in this school is the demographic that will prosper because of a change in the calendar, and for that reason for the kids, and for myself, I support it whole heartedly," said Schneider.
Because helping each student succeed, despite their background, is the goal for these teachers.
"I don't think that year round school is going to be a miracle for outperforming everyone else in the district," said Michaels. "I think what it's going to do is it could be a miracle for our kids. And it could help us close that gap."