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For 2,700 CMS students, school bells only a week away

Year-round program launching later this month for four Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools.

For most students, summer vacation is only about halfway through. But for about 2,700 elementary and middle school students in west Charlotte, it’s almost time to set the alarm clocks and return to class.

Druid Hills, Thomasboro, Bruns and Byers pre-K-8 schools start the 2013-14 school year next week, in a privately funded push to make sure those students don’t lose academic ground during a long summer break. Staff members from Project LIFT, the public-private partnership that launched the year-round calendars, have been posting yard signs, putting announcements in church bulletins and sending text messages to parents to make sure students know when to report.

“It’s kind of like a day of renewal, a fresh start,” said Denise Watts, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Project LIFT zone superintendent. “It’s important for everybody to be there.”

On Saturday, parents and students gathered at Bruns to celebrate the start of a new school year at a festival sponsored by Project LIFT, the Mecklenburg Parks and Recreation Department and the Greater Enrichment Program.

Druid Hills and Thomasboro will open July 22, and pupils will attend 19 more days of school than other students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The extra time costs a little more than $2 million for teachers, buses and other support. It’s coming from donors who have pledged $55 million for a five-year quest to boost achievement at West Charlotte High.

Using time wisely is key

Research on the academic benefit of longer school years shows mixed results. Extra time alone won’t make much difference, some studies indicate. Watts says the key is making sure teachers use that time wisely. That means the five weeks before most students return to school won’t be a glorified summer camp but real academic work.

“It is traditional school. Teaching and learning will start,” Watts said.

Byers and Bruns, which open July 23, will spread out the same 180 days that other CMS students attend. There, the hope is that shorter breaks keep lessons fresher in students’ minds.

All four schools have Bright Beginnings pre-kindergarten classes. The 4-year-olds will start staggered-entry schedules later in the week.

The year-round schools will get extra break time in October and April – three weeks for Byers and Bruns, two for Druid Hills and Thomasboro – along with the same winter break as other CMS students. The Arts and Science Council is working with Project LIFT to provide free enrichment camps during the breaks.

Most public schools in North Carolina will open Aug. 26, driven by a state calendar law designed to create a uniform school year. But variations and early starts are growing increasingly common in the Charlotte region.

Some charter schools, which aren’t bound by the calendar law, open earlier in August. Cato Middle College High and a second CMS high school slated to open at Central Piedmont Community College’s Levine Campus will start Aug. 12, to coincide with the CPCC calendar.

Project LIFT got special permission from the state legislature to open schools in July.

Helms: 704-358-5033; Twitter @anndosshelms
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