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4-day school week geared to students in technical schools

School News DME

Students in Pennsylvania could go to school four days a week following legislation signed by Gov. Josh Shapiro that proponents say would give more flexibility to students in technical vocational programs.

Shapiro signed legislation in December that amended the Pennsylvania School Code. Instead of exclusively operating on a 180-day school year, school districts now have the choice to fulfill the instructional requirement on an hourly basis. Students in elementary school would be required to attend school for 900 hours a year, with 990 hours required of secondary school students.

A four-day school week would meet hourly instructional requirements by extending hours during the days that school would be in session.

Rep. Aaron Bernstine, R-8th, one of six legislators who introduced the bill, said Wednesday, April 24, the change from five days to four days a week would give flexibility to nontraditional students and “better prepare them for the workforce.”

State Rep. Jesse Topper, R-78th, who was the prime sponsor of the bill, said in a memorandum the legislation would increase schedule flexibility. “Longer days and shorter school years or longer school years with shorter days will allow accommodation for weather conditions, professional development and community events,” Topper said.

In the memorandum, Topper also wrote the legislation could provide additional assistance to students learning English as a second language or students with Individualized Education Plans, and would allow “remote learning to be tracked more accurately through the use of hours, not days for full-time remote learners.”

Leading up to the legislation being signed, Bernstine said he met with a number of representatives from technical schools primarily in Butler and Lawrence counties. He said the four-day school week is best suited for students in vocational programs.

“The vast majority of school districts will not be moving to a four-day school week,” Bernstine said. “It’s more geared for those that are in trade school environments.”

“We have heard from a lot of — primarily — trade schools that there are certain circumstances in which ... students were working and then receiving credit for that work, and it was not necessary for those students to be in a classroom setting over a five day period,” he said. “Sometimes they’re going to be working on-site for that (fifth) day and (are) able to earn money while doing so.”

Jim Preston, who serves as the assistant to the dean of the College of Education at Slippery Rock University, coordinates student-teacher placements and is an associate professor of elementary education and early childhood, said that a four-day school week with extended hours would “be a huge undertaking to do correctly.”

“Some schools and teachers would welcome this, but I believe others would struggle,” he said. “Even for middle level and high school students, for five days of instruction to be condensed into four days to be successful, a shift in how teachers teach would be required. I believe teachers would have to abandon most teacher-centered instruction and adopt a more student-centered or project-based approach.”

“A school that is creative and has the resources to re-imagine what instruction looks like could use this flexibility to do some very positive things such as apprenticeships, internships and community engagement activities,” he stated. “... schools could start to imagine what they could do with the flexibility, but I would be surprised if any school would adopt a four-day school week without an enormous amount of planning. This would not only affect schools but obviously families, local businesses and the community as a whole.”

Cari Sychak, who is a grandmother to 10 children, five of whom are in the Butler Area School District and Armstrong County, expressed concern over the possibility of a four-day school week.

“Most parents work out of the home or in the home,” Sychak said. “The five days a week children are at school (are) when most of those parents work to provide for their families. That's going to be a burden to the parents with younger kids now (that) they need child care. They already provide for holidays and snow days as well as summer vacation.”

“Some teachers are also parents of school-aged children,” Preston said. “Not only would that teacher have to be concerned about their teaching in the new paradigm but also how it affects their family life. Teachers in the lower grades would view this differently than those who teach in the middle or upper grades.”

Brian White, superintendent of the Butler school district, said the district is not “actively pursuing” a four-day week, which he noted could “cause significant challenges for many of our families from a child care perspective.”

“We can utilize this flexibility with students who have individualized opportunities and needs such as an internship without going to a four-day schedule for all students,” White stated.

Regina Hiler, executive director of Butler County Area Vocational-Technical School, and Jason Gurski, assistant director of Lenape Technical School in Armstrong County, did not reply to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

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