A partnership between the University’s School of Education and Ann Arbor Public Schools may soon give students at Mitchell Elementary School and Scarlett Middle School the option to spend less time on summer vacation and more time in the classroom.

Formerly known as the lab school program, the partnership aims to create an experimental K-8 campus between the two schools. The schools would adopt a “balanced” school year model that would shorten summer break from ten weeks to six, but extend other breaks into “intersessions.”

Though leaders and experts say the program would help prevent students from losing the knowledge they’ve gained during the school year in the summer, some AAPS parents criticized the plan at a meeting last night, saying it would cut into already limited family time. Parents’ hesitation prompted school officials to move implementation of the program, which was scheduled to start in Fall 2011, back to allow more time for planning and increased community input.

“Given more time to look at various options, we can come up with a plan that will be more satisfying,” AAPS administrator LeeAnn Dickinson-Kelley said at last night’s meeting.

Despite the criticisms, Cathy Reishel, a clinical associate professor at the School of Education who is helping to lead the project, said that if adopted, the plan would allow for students to choose to participate in academic enrichment activities at the school during the one- to two-week intersessions.

Intersessions would provide students an “extra opportunity to dig into interesting academic work,” Reishel said, adding that lessons taught during the breaks would expand on material taught in class and would focus on reading and math.

The partnership with AAPS would offer student-teachers from the University the opportunity to work in a collaborative environment with University faculty and teachers at Scarlett and Mitchell. It would also allow teachers and students from different grades to interact, particularly when subject matter overlaps in the curriculum.

“We could imagine, for example, 8th graders participating with 5th graders in some kind of exploration of the First Continental Congress,” Reishel said.

But not everyone is as excited as Reishel about the partnership. Parents and members of the community raised several concerns about the program at the AAPS Board of Education meeting last night.

One main point of concern was the change to a balanced calendar, which one parent said was inconsiderate.

“Our family time is precious to us,” said Elizabeth Baker, whose child attends Ann Arbor Public Schools. “Summertime allows my son to be happy, well-rounded and relaxed.”

Parents were concerned with the logistical challenges they may face when one child attends Mitchell or Scarlett and another attends any of the other district schools operating under a traditional calendar. As the plan stands now, the balanced school year would not apply to Scarlett’s feeder schools: Pittsfield, Carpenter or Allen elementary schools.

Reishel acknowledged the concern.

“There is no question that it would be difficult for families to have kids on two different schedules — not impossible, but it would be different,” she said.

Reishel added that while a balanced school year may be new to the Ann Arbor school district, it is not a new concept. There are over 3,000 schools across the country using such a schedule, she said, including schools in Grand Rapids, Mich.

But some parents at the meeting voiced their support of the partnership.

“I believe that the balanced calendar does not shut out the whole summer,” said Gloria Yamas, whose children attend Scarlett. “I know that it may be uncomfortable as most change is uncomfortable to people, but the benefits to our children, to me, are unending.”

At the meeting, Scarlett Principal Gerald Vazquez cited research published in the “Review of Education Research” that suggests students lose much of what they’ve learned during the academic year over the summer months — particularly in the areas of reading and math — in a phenomenon termed the “summer slide.”

Officials chose Mitchell and Scarlett as sites for the project, Mitchell Principal Kathy Scarnecchia said, due to a discrepancy in students’ performance and their diverse ethnic backgrounds.

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