August 5, 2008

Early Start Toward Learning

By Scott Waldman, Albany Times Union, N.Y.

Aug. 5--ALBANY -- Kilhari Cortina might have slept late Monday.

Instead, the 10-year-old woke up at 5 a.m., brushed his teeth, put on a uniform and headed off to the first day of the new school year. He's a fifth-grader at KIPP: Tech Valley Charter Middle School.

His cousins laughed when they heard he had to be back in the classroom in August. But he just shrugged them off.

"I said 'We're going to have a lot of fun while you're playing video games,' " Kilhari recalled.

The first day of fifth grade at KIPP was a month earlier than almost every other public, private or charter school in the Capital Region. The sixth-graders return at the end of the week and the seventh grade returns on Monday, does the eighth grade, which was just added this year. Most local schools begin the week after Labor Day. Public schools are required to offer 180 days of instruction. KIPP's year is 200 days.

More and more charter schools, where students typically have longer school days, are conducting regular classes in the summer. The Brighter Choice charters recently got approval to stay open year-round.

These midsummer days are a vital time for students, particularly those beginning middle school, KIPP co-founder Dan Ceaser said. They get students away from the distractions of summer and in the mind-set to learn.

Ceaser attributed some of the success of his students to these valuable introductory weeks. Virtually every seventh-grader at KIPP, many of whom have been there since it was founded in 2005, passed the state's standardized English and math tests.

"We hit the ground running," Ceaser said. "We can do that by having the time this summer to acclimate."

While their friends may have been thinking about their favorite ice cream flavor or where they'd ride their bikes, the KIPP kids learned multiplication games and the importance of not laughing at a classmate who spills a tray in the lunchroom.

It didn't take long for the youngsters to envision their strong future. Every time Ceaser asked them when they were going to college, the boys and girls chanted "2016." The class of 2016 also practiced the KIPP applause -- raising their hands and shaking them -- and walking silently in the hallway as their teachers praised their quick ability to learn.

Dustin Mitchell, KIPP's other co-founder, said the first couple of days raise the level of expectation for students and shows them that they can work hard and have fun.

"The more time kids spend in school, it turns into results," he said.

Seven Chandler he had been thinking about returning to school for weeks and was excited on this day that he got to raise his voice and shout "2016."

"I'm not pleased I have school this early," the 9-year-old said, "but I'm thinking it's going to be pretty fun, so I'm not worried about it." Waldman can be reached at 454-5080 or by e-mail at [email protected]

School days Start and end dates at local schools for 2008-09:

The Albany Academies: Sept. 4 to June 3 or 4 (depending on grade)

City of Albany School District: Sept. 3 to June 25

Brighter Choice Charter Schools: Sept. 2 to July 10; students entering grades 2 through 4 also have classes Monday through Thursday from July 21 to Aug. 14

Guilderland Central School District: Sept. 4 to June 25

KIPP Charter School: Aug. 4 to 11 (depending on grade) to June 12

Troy City School District: Sept. 4 to June 25

Roman Catholic Diocese schools follow the same calendar as public schools.

Source: School Web sites


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