The District of Columbia Public School System recently expanded its year-round program, with a Southeast Washington Elementary School serving as its public launch. Anita J. Turner Elementary School, located in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Ward 8, is one of 11 schools participating in the District schools’ extended school year program.

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Students in a 2nd grade class at Turner Elementary in Ward 8 do a “get to know you” exercise on the first day of school on Aug. 8. (Photo by DCPS)

On Aug. 8, Turner Elementary School Principal Eric Bethel stood outside of the entrance with staff members welcoming students and parents to the 2016-2017 academic year. “I think year-round school is a tremendous opportunity to stretch the school year to the advantage of our students,” Bethel told the AFRO. “Year-round school will give us the chance to address the glaring academic gaps that persists between students in Congress Heights and the more affluent areas of the city.”

The extended-year calendar includes an extra month of instruction from the traditional school calendar, which extends the academic school year from 180 to 200 days. One of the goals of year-round learning is to eliminate the “learning loss” which some students experience during the summer.

Under year-round learning, there is an optional two weeks for students who need extra academic support. There are scheduled breaks in October and June to accompany winter and summer breaks.

The Raymond Education Campus in Ward 4 served as a pilot for the extended learning program and interim D.C. Schools Chancellor John Davis told the AFRO that “the program worked well at Raymond Elementary.”

D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said that the program is designed to give low-income children the same advantages as middle class ones. “The extra classroom time that an extended-year calendar provides is critical,” Henderson, who will leave her post on Oct. 1, said. “We know that students from low-income families often lose more than two months of reading achievement during the summer, despite the fact that their middle-class peers are making gains. Providing students in struggling schools with more instructional opportunities across all subjects – from math and English language arts to world language and music – leads to better outcomes in the long term.”

In addition to Turner and Raymond, the schools participating in the program include H.D. Cooke Elementary School in Ward 1 and Randle Highlands and Thomas Elementary School in Ward 7. Ward 8 schools include Kelly Miller Middle School, Garfield Elementary School, Hendley Elementary School, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, and Hart and John Hayden Johnson Middle Schools. There are 3,600 students attending the year-round schools.

The schools were selected based on community interest, school leadership, and interest in improving academic outcomes.

Bethel told the AFRO that the extended-school year will allow his students to experience “rigorous, joyful learning” that includes classes in ballet, string music, choir, and foreign languages.

Presumptive D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) attended the Turner launch. White is a former D.C. State Board of Education member for the ward and endorsed the extended-year program. “This is huge,” White said. “Programs like this will allow our students to compete throughout the world. Education is the great equalizer and this program will help raise our next generation of leaders.”

White isn’t the only Ward 8 resident enthusiastic about the program. Cheri Hall, parent of three Turner students, is elated that school started early. “I love it,” Hall told the AFRO. “This will get the kids off the streets and into the classroom where they belong.”

The District’s traditional public schools will begin classes on Aug. 22.