Extending Learning Time for Disadvantaged Students - Volume 2 Profiles of Promising Practices - 1995

A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Year-Round Education with Intersession Programs

Socorro Independent School District
El Paso County, Texas


Key Characteristics


Overview

In 1990, the Socorro Independent School District began phasing in year-round education with intersession programs to improve academic achievement and better serve a rapidly increasing population. Every school now follows a schedule of 60 weekdays on, 20 weekdays off. Intersession activities occur during the first two weeks of each month-long break. Academic programs focus on tutoring, acceleration, and enrichment activities that use thematic, whole-language approaches; the shorter breaks between courses decrease the loss of English skills by many students with limited English proficiency. Participation in intersessions is voluntary, but students who have failed or fallen behind are encouraged to attend. About 33 percent--and in some cases as much as 70 percent--of all students participate in intersession programs. Most schools follow multi-track schedules to serve larger numbers of students.

School Context

The Socorro school district is located in El Paso County, which borders on Mexico and New Mexico. It serves about 17,900 students in the urban, primarily low-income communities of Socorro, Horizon City, and the eastern corridor of El Paso. Ninety percent of the students are Hispanic, 9 percent are Anglo, and 1 percent are African American. Many students come from low-income families; some live in homes with no interior plumbing. Approximately 300 students are from migrant families. The district has the lowest dropout rate in the county, however, due primarily to prevention programs established in the 1980s. The district ranks in the bottom 10 percent of districts in the state in terms of per-pupil expenditures and was one of the original plaintiffs in the school finance lawsuit filed against the state in 1989.

Major Program Features

Implementation Issues

The challenge of balancing the increased academic needs of an expanding student population with inadequate funding generated by the property-poor district necessitated the three-year phase-in of a year-round schedule. The task force's comprehensive study and numerous community meetings before the program's implementation built a strong foundation of community support for the year-round schedule and intersessions. The program works very well in the "working poor" community because the schedule fits most families' lifestyles. According to district personnel, families typically did not travel during the summer and could not afford summer camps for their children, so they appreciated the added school activities during the summer.

Resistance to the year-round schedule appeared in only one neighborhood middle school, where campus administrators did not support the new calendar and did not promote it in their community. This reluctance was reflected in the first year's preregistration; less than 20 percent of parents signed up for the new calendar. Consequently, the district decided not to offer the year-round schedule at that site. The following year, the school was so crowded that administrators had no choice and had to implement a multi-track year-round schedule.

In addition to improving academic achievement, the year-round/ intersession program has helped ameliorate overcrowding in many schools across the district. In the second year of implementation, multi-track year-round schedules were established at nine overcrowded schools, enabling the district to serve 2,000 more students than was possible with a traditional school calendar; now, 12 of the 18 schools use multi-track schedules. One school that is overcrowded even with multi-tracks offers intersessions off-site in partnership with the local YWCA. The YWCA was already holding before- and after-school programs, and when the school's multi-track schedule did not solve its crowding problems, the principal and YWCA director developed the off-site intersession arrangement. The YWCA pays for the cost of the afternoon programs and the school pays for morning academic sessions. Teachers hold classes at the "Y," and school buses transport the students.

Although the district allows students to attend intersessions at other campuses, about 99 percent of the students participate at their home campus. The program that typically draws students from other campuses is Science Camp and is only offered at certain schools. The district provides bus transportation for any student who lives two or more miles from the campus, and if students decide to attend other campuses for intersession, bus service is provided. In the first year of the program, Socorro published a booklet describing the intersessions at each campus, but so few students chose to attend another school that district officials decided it was unnecessary to continue such a publication. If students are interested in intersessions focusing on a particular subject, teachers help them locate the appropriate campus.

Evidence of Success

At the elementary level, where schools are in their third year of year-round schedules, the district has assembled several measures of success:

High schools are in their first year of the year-round schedule, so they have less evidence of success. However, in 1994, 64 percent of the district's eleventh-graders mastered all three subtests on the state assessment; traditionally less than half have done so. In addition, the rate of students failing one course during the first semester dropped from 60 percent to 40 percent.
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