HOPEWELL -- In just six months, Hopewell's entire public-school system will begin a balanced calendar, and the head of the system is anxious to get it started.
"I'm at the point now where I just want to do it," said Dr. Melody D. Hackney, Hopewell's school superintendent. She added that some of her staff may call her crazy for saying that, but her confidence level is, in fact, "very high."
On July 27, Hopewell will become the first public-school system in Virginia to go all in on the balanced calendar, also known as "year-round schools." Students will attend school on a "45/15 model," meaning they will go to class for nine weeks (45 class days), then have a three-week break (15 weekdays) before returning. During the breaks between classes, which Hopewell calls "intercession," students will have the opportunity to take part in extracurricular organized study activities and possibly even intern at a local business.
The 45/15 model adheres to Virginia's requirement of 180 days of classroom instruction. It also will not affect many other issues, such as bus schedules and the start and stop time of school.
"It's exactly the same," Byron Davis, principal at Patrick Copeland Elementary School, stated. "There's no reason for us to make the schools open later or close earlier."
Hopewell began tinkering with the idea of a balanced calendar in 2017 through informal educator meetings and discussions. Hackney said the overwhelming support from teachers and administrators paved the way for last May's approval of the calendar by the School Board.
Balanced calendars are pushed as a positive alternative for many low-income families who may not be able to afford extended periods of after-school day care for their younger students. It has been experimented with at some school systems, such as Chesterfield County, but only with the elementary-age children.
Hopewell's calendar will affect all schools in the system, and is being looked at by other systems as a pilot of the plan.
The calendar also reduces the amount of educational downtime students might have with the three-month summer break and is said to allow for more retention of what students have learned prior to long breaks.
Also, the intercessions between class times are opportunities for teachers to have extracurricular class activities with their students to supplement the classroom instruction times. Businesses across Hopewell have approached the school system with opportunities for students to intern with them during the breaks.
Davis, one of the early backers for a balanced calendar, said when he heard about the businesses' interest, "I literally got chills."
"They initiated it, we didn't even have to go to them," Hackney said of the businesses.
School buses will operate on the same schedules during break times as they will during instruction times. The superintendent said as it plays out, there will be some flexibility to routes that have less traffic of students, but the hope is that engagement will be high.
"Our goal is that we're going to be offering some really unique and fun experiences for kids that will really motivate them to come to school when they don't necessarily have to," said Hackney.
Initially, Hackney said there was growing concern over what students were going to do during intercession, but over time she knows the public will recognize the plethora of available options.
"I think they're going to be surprised over what we're going to be able to do," she said.
Hackney even went as far as to say that the "incredible experiences" available over intercession are what she is most excited about for year-round schooling in Hopewell.
"We are completely deviating from traditional learning," Hackney stated. "We are creating real-world unique experiences for kids and then embedding the instruction into those experiences."
With July still six months away, the system is working on some finishing touches, such as development of a catalog of what will be offered for the 2020-2021 school year. Hackney said she hopes that catalog will be ready for presentation to the School Board "as soon as possible" so that it can get out to parents very quickly.
"We're good," Hackney said. "We know what this looks like.
"We're in a great place."