ELKHART — Seventy more minutes in Elkhart Community Schools’ elementary school day this year means students will have more time for a number of activities each week, including a daily afternoon snack.
According to John Hill, assistant superintendent of instruction for Elkhart, each elementary student will have approximately 50 minutes of music, art, physical education, library and computer lab every week.
In past years, students had 40 minutes of music and physical education every week and 40 minutes of art every other week. Library and computer lab time were not regularly scheduled in most Elkhart elementary schools, Hill said, but happened on occasion when time allowed, though some schools may have made library and computer time more of a priority.
Because of the longer school day, which will be 7 hours and 15 minutes for elementary school students, Elkhart Community Schools qualified for a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to supply a snack to each elementary student every afternoon.
Hill also noted that the new elementary school day includes plenty of transition and “discretionary time,” when teachers can decide if their students need a walk around the school, to stretch or switch subjects for a bit.
Hill said that Elkhart’s previous elementary school day, which had been 6 hours and 5 minutes long, was pretty short compared to other elementary schools. Adding 70 more minutes to each elementary school day is nearly the equivalent of adding a sixth day of instruction every week.
“We can now help some more who struggle, who need more time,” Hill said.
He also noted that whenever there is change, the individuals who are most resilient and who adjust most quickly are not the adults — the parents or teachers — but the kids.
“Always, always, always, it’s the kids,” Hill said.
Middle and high school students also have new start and end times, cutting out 10 minutes from last year’s schedule.
The change is one of several in an effort to lessen costs in Elkhart Community Schools’ transportation fund, due to a $2 million shortfall because of property tax caps.
The new start and end times allowed administrators to adjust school bus routes. That means buses may be on the road at times they haven’t been before.
Buses will be on the roads between 6 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., according to Terry Chomer, the school system’s transportation director, with the greatest amount of bus traffic when buses arrive and leave the high schools and middle schools at 7:10 a.m. and the elementary schools at 8:30 a.m., between 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. for some midday routes and between 2:45 and 5:30 p.m., when buses are dropping off students after school and after some extracurricular activities.
Chomer called for Elkhart drivers to “be vigilant” in watching for buses and students on the streets and sidewalks.
There are times when cars do not stop completely when a bus is stopped, or see a student get on the bus and move on, but don’t see a second child approaching, for example, he said. Drivers should also watch for students who may cross a road not at a crosswalk as they’re supposed to, or walking out from between parked cars along a street.
Likewise, when dropping students off at school, parents should avoid having their child maneuver through parked buses to get to the school’s entrance.
Chomer hopes people will be sure to keep an eye out and help keep kids safe.
“School is starting,” he said, “and a lot of things are going to be different, especially from the last three months.”
Elkhart Community Schools students return to the classroom Wednesday, Aug. 14.