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2,500 CMS students head back to school early

In the classrooms at Druid Hills Academy, fourth-graders interviewed each other, eighth-graders drew pictures or wrote poems about their school, and first-graders practiced lining up for the bathroom.

Most Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are empty in July, but Druid Hills Academy and three other pre-K-8th grade schools opened their doors to hundreds of students this week and began their school year.

Druid Hills, Thomasboro, Bruns and Walter G. Byers School in north and west Charlotte are part of Project LIFT, a public-private partnership that led the four schools’ initiative to switch to year-round calendars.

Through the extended schedule, Project LIFT aims to boost students’ reading and math proficiency, academic growth and high school graduation rates to 90 percent, said Denada Jackson, a community engagement officer for the program.

Allison Hiltz, principal at Druid Hills Academy, said shortening the summer break will prevent students from losing what they have learned during the school year.

“Time after time, we’ve worked to get reading up and made a year’s worth of growth,” Hiltz said. “When we stopped to applaud, summer would come and students would lose half a year’s worth of growth.”

About 2,500 students began the school year at the schools Monday and Tuesday, said Denise Watts, the CMS Project LIFT zone superintendent.

“As we walked through the schools (Monday), we saw a lot of excitement, enthusiasm and the little bit of anxiety that students experience on that first day of school,” Watts said.

Project LIFT anticipated that more than 2,700 students would enroll in the four schools, and its staff has worked since October through events, flyers, phone calls and text messages to remind parents of the early start to the school year.

How many no-shows?

It’s not yet clear how many students didn’t show up for the first day. Watts said the program will have numbers by the end of the week and will use counselors and social workers to reach out to any missing students.

As part of the continuous learning calendar, the schools offer five-week summer vacations, as well as two- or three-week breaks in the fall or spring. Students can attend cultural or educational opportunities during these breaks.

Tameka Williams, an instructional associate for second-graders at Druid Hills Academy, said she has witnessed the toll that a long summer vacation can take on students’ learning.

“The first question is always, ‘Tell us about your summer,’ ” she said. “And 15 or 20 students always say, ‘I watched TV.’ ”

Many parents asked a lot of questions about the altered schedule when it was first proposed, but Hiltz said she has not heard any complaints this week from parents or students.

“Most parents, when they come back (after summer break), they just grin a lot,” she said. “ ‘Five weeks is just enough,’ is what they say, ‘and four weeks would have been better.’ ”

Albright: 704-578-7075
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