staying on

Middle schools start longer days with a focus on participation

Students at I.S. 30 play the strategic game of tag called one step on Thursday during their extended day.
Students at I.S. 340 played a strategic game of tag called “one step” on Thursday during their extended day, part of a city pilot program.

After dismissal on the first day of school at I.S. 30, sixth-graders filed into the auditorium, where Principal Carol Heeraman asked an important question: How many had permission to stay for two and a half more hours?

Only a handful of students raised their hands, and the rest were dismissed with instructions to have their parents sign the permission form by the next day. “This is your homework assignment,” Heeraman said.

I.S. 30 is one of 20 city middle schools to pilot an extended day this year as part of the Department of Education’s two-year-old Middle School Quality Initiative. Some schools started the year with near-perfect attendance, but others are learning that getting all students who are eligible for the programming to attend can be a complicated endeavor.

In I.S. 30’s auditorium, one student raised his hand and asked, “What if my mom doesn’t want me to stay?”

Heeraman told the student, Emad Rabah, to have his mother speak directly to her. “This is a phenomenal opportunity for each of you,” the principal said.

Afterward, Rabah said his mother needs him to pick up his younger brother from school. If he doesn’t leave I.S. 30 at the regular dismissal time, no one will be able to take his brother home.

Rabah’s family’s needs represent some of the many challenges that schools are facing in trying to get all sixth-graders to stay after the regular school day ends. In the pilot, which city officials announced in April, students will split their time between getting literacy tutoring from tutors trained by Harvard University’s EdLabs, a research institute, and participating in activities such as drama and debate that are run by the community-based organization that is partnering with each school.

In the coming weeks, schools will screen students’ literacy skills to determine which students should get the intensive tutoring, which Daniel Levitt, EdLabs’ regional director, will aim to help middle performers who struggle with reading comprehension rather than fluency. For now, students are getting to know each other through team-building activities.

At I.S. 340 on Thursday, students played games such as “one step,” a strategic game of tag where participants do not run. “Take five giant steps and two hops… and remember who’s on your team! Don’t tag your teammate!” shouted the adult leading the activity.

The sixth graders eyed one another and carefully plotted their moves so that they could tag someone on the opposite team and make sure they wouldn’t get tagged. While the activity was fun, it was also “getting them to think about critical thinking, being strategic and staying focused — all of those 21st-century ‘soft’ skills,” said Tameeka Ford-Norville, the director of after-school programs for University Settlement, which is working with I.S. 340.

Ford-Norville said University Settlement is going to great lengths to make sure that all sixth graders can participate. When a father told her that he gets physical therapy during the time his daughter would be ending the extended day and he doesn’t want her to walk home alone, she started working on a solution.

“We’re currently trying to devise a plan so we can support that family, which might mean a staff person escorting the student home,” Ford-Norville said.

The city will provide late busing for students with disabilities who require it, but other students are on their own for travel from school, which will happen after dark during the winter months. Students at only two of the 20 schools typically are bused, and they will receive Metrocards for their extended day travel, a Department of Education spokeswoman said.

Other schools have encountered different obstacles to full participation. At J.H.S. 123, City Year School Partnerships Director Annie Kessler said about 120 of the 147 sixth graders have signed up, while about a dozen families have decided to opt out. Families cited needing their older children to supervise younger siblings, past negative experiences with after-school programs, and just having a preference for going straight home after school.

“We’re currently working with the school to troubleshoot around as many of these reasons as we have control over,” Kessler said. She and other program coordinators said they think once the literacy tutoring begins, schools will be able to make a more convincing case for participation.

The efforts appear to be paying off. Less than a quarter of I.S. 30’s sixth graders stayed for the first extended day, but just three days later, more than half the grade was enrolled. Annette Scaduto, director of operations with the NIA Community Services Network, the nonprofit providing the after-school programming, said the numbers are encouraging.

But she said a couple of families had asked to opt out and she planned to strategize with Heeraman about how to get them to change their minds.

“We can’t force a child to stay … but if it’s a family that we know would be a great candidate for the program, and there isn’t much standing in the way for them to participate, then we’ll continue to communicate with them and encourage them to try it out,” Scaduto said.

At some schools, families needed little prompting to sign off on the extended day program. At Thurgood Marshall Academy, half of sixth graders had had an extended day in elementary school, according to Vanessa Portillo, who works with the community organization Abyssinian Development Corporation. At the newly opened Highbridge Green School, where parents played an instrumental role in getting the school opened and wanted the extended day for their children, said Davon Russell, who works at WHEDco, the school’s community partner. Both schools have 100 percent of sixth-graders enrolled.

At other schools, officials are promoting the idea that the extended day is just part of the normal routine. Russell refers to the extended day as “periods 9 and 10.” At I.S. 240, CAMBA’s director of youth development Christie Hodgkins said, “The message that families have gotten is that the school day ends at 4:45.” (She said about 224 out of 270 sixth-graders have enrolled.)

And at M.S. 43, the Child Center of New York’s program director Jacqueline Gutierrez said while the school can’t make the extended day program mandatory, it has told parents that it’s part of the sixth grade curriculum and the child must attend. So far, about 50 sixth graders have enrolled out of about 100 to 120, she said.

Some parents did not need much convincing during the programs’ first week. On Thursday at I.S. 340, Zuleika Johnson said she likes that school ends later because she works late and would have to pay for a babysitter to look after her daughter. But, she said, more importantly, the extra time at school would help her daughter get the academic help she needs.

On Monday, Filiez Yumasak got to I.S. 30 at the regular time to pick up her daughter. When her daughter ran out of the school and presented the permission slip to let her participate in the extended day program, Yumasak was shocked. But she quickly smiled when she saw how excited her daughter was. She said she would let her daughter stay, because her daughter loves school and would stay there all day if she could.

“It’s good because it will create more opportunities for her,” Yumusak said.

This story is part of a multi-city series on expanded learning time, with funding from the Ford Foundation, which supports “more and better learning time” in high-need communities. Also participating in the series are the Notebook (Philadelphia), Catalyst ChicagoEdSource (California), and GothamSchools’ sister site EdNewsColorado.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”