The success of extending the learning day at Kualapuu Elementary School may serve as a model for the rest of the state as leaders decide how to reform the educational system using federal Race to the Top dollars.
It has been more than five months since Kualupuu, Molokai’s only charter school, added 70 minutes to each school day through the Expanded Learning Time (ELT) program. The non-profit group Ho‘okako‘o Corporation, which serves as Kualapuu’s school board, recently surveyed the Kualapuu community and reported on the progress of ELT to the Hawaii State Legislature.
The state legislature passed a resolution in 2009 requesting the Ho‘okako‘o Corporation to report on progress made implementing ELT at Kualapuu and at Kamaile Academy in Waianae, another charter school it oversees. The Hawaii Department of Education has already recognized the value of ELT as a strategy in school reform. Based on Hawaii’s Race to the Top goals, ELT initiatives will likely be central to how the state will spend the $75 million awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to provide “systemic, bold education reform.”
Initial findings from Kualapuu show that the school is “achieving its goals of improving the quality of both student learning and teacher practice and increasing the breadth and depth of instruction,” said the report.
By adding daily physical education as well as weekly classes in ‘Ike Hawaii (teaching Hawaii culture, values and history) and performing arts, Kualapuu was able to adjust its schedule so that the extra 70 minutes increases instructional time by 107 minutes per day.
In late November, Ho‘okako‘o Corporation interviewed 46 Kualapuu people for its study: five students, three parents, 20 teachers and 18 staff members. The study focused on learning about the challenges and successes of ELT after four months. In the spring, Kualapuu will evaluate the ELT initiative to further assess and adjust the program as it moves into its second phase next year. The plan is to add 20 more minutes to the school day for the 2011-12 school year.
Going into the school year, teachers, staff and students said they were concerned that the longer day may be too “tiring” or “boring.” Survey results show just the opposite. Teachers report that students seem more “enthusiastic” and “engaged.” Students said they appreciate having more time to spend with teachers.
Teachers initially expressed concerns about the longer day. But after four months, the teachers surveyed said they appreciate the planning and collaboration time increasing from 90 to 150 minutes per week. Changing the length of periods from 30 minutes to 45 minutes was also well received.
Staff observed a decrease in bullying and harassment that was prevalent when students had daily recess time. They have also seen a decrease in student injuries; an increase in transfer requests from out-of-district students and a trend toward teaching to the “whole child” and not just to tests. The school also achieved its 95 percent attendance goal for the first quarter.
While the vast majority of feedback about ELT was positive, the study did identify some continuing challenges for the program. Parents and teachers said the students may need more unstructured, “down time” to socialize and get a “brain break.” Managing the break and passing time routines and the school’s new payroll system may also need adjustment, according to the study.
But all involved in the study agreed that the successes — improved academic performance, improved attitudes, increased student confidence and exposure to a broader curriculum — easily outweigh the challenges.