For Chicago Public School students not attending year-round school, Tuesday was the first day back in class. It was also the first day of an extended learning time for two schools, STEM Magnet Academy and Skinner North School; both of which will have an additional 90 minutes added to each school day this year.

The extended school day is part of Mayor Emanuel’s “Longer School Day Pioneers Program.” Pointing out that Chicago’s school day is the shortest in the country when compared to nine other large cities, Emanuel has been urging schools to extend their days in order to provide additional instruction time for students, with the hope of increasing ISAT scores and better preparing them for college.

In order to extend their school days, teachers need to vote to waive the part of their union contract concerning the length of day and salary. According to the Chicago Tribune, teachers at schools that join the initiative will receive a prorated, 2 percent raise. Additionally, schools extending the day will net up to $150,000 in discretionary funds. Some teachers and parents are backing Emanuel’s campaign. Jackie Menoni, a teacher at South Loop Elementary School, told the Chicago Tribune that teachers are already coming in early and staying late. She states, “I’ve been involved in programs after school, before school and in the summer, and I see a huge difference that extended hours make for kids.”

Others, including some teachers, side with the Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis who is against waiving the contract. Lewis is instead in favor of planning and negotiating with Chicago Public Schools on how best to add the time for the next school year.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, it’s easy to see the benefit of broadening opportunities for Chicago Public School students. While most schools are still working toward an extended day, some schools also take advantage of after school opportunities provided by various organizations.

Chicago Cares education programs provide academic, extracurricular, and health and fitness programs to partnering schools and agencies to help increase students’ learning experiences during weekday evening and Saturday morning hours. These programs allow students to explore science, art, cooking, and several other subjects outside the classroom with volunteers who help to provide more individualized attention.

Many schools provide ISAT prep on Saturday mornings during the winter months leading up to the test. Chicago Cares education volunteers are often part of this prep at partner schools, putting their beakers, paintbrushes, or blenders aside to break out their number two pencils and assist teachers as they prep the students for testing.

Whether the need is arts programming or simple homework help, Chicago Cares volunteers help to fill the gaps at schools when a longer day or additional classes are not possible. Find out how can you help extend learning experiences for students outside their short school day, visit the project calendar at www.chicagocares.org.

Today’s post is from Chicago Cares Education Coordinator, Martha Renken

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