By now, with the start of a new year less than two weeks away, Holly Lipsey is in full school preparation mode.
Lipsey, the mother of four children who cover elementary, middle and high school, is busy working through her back-to-school list that includes shopping for school supplies and buying new clothes, shoes, backpacks and lunch bags. She has turned in all the required school paperwork and paid the various fees, and her children have made their annual trips to the clinic to get their physicals.
Phaedra, 17, a senior; Amara, 14, a freshman; Teagan, 13, a seventh-grader; and Tamin, 11, a fifth-grader; are getting prepared as well. They’ve given input into new lunch options for the year, and in the next week they’ll shift from their looser summer sleep schedule to a stricter school-year routine.
“I get the kids into a good sleep routine a week before school starts with a set bedtime and waking up time,” Lipsey says. “It’s important for starting off the school year well.”
An earlier start to the school year and longer days in the classroom are the biggest changes awaiting Lipsey’s children along with all other students, parents, faculty and staff when the Ames Community School District’s 2014-15 school year begins on Aug. 14.
“The change to starting school one week earlier was actually in response to student requests and parent requests, most notably high school students,” Superintendent Tim Taylor says. “The impact is the ability to complete the first semester prior to winter break. High school students no longer will have to come back from winter break and experience final exams. It will also allow our school year to end prior to June. The shorter summer break is a one-year inconvenience.”
The change of starting and ending time will affect the elementary and middle school students. The high school hours will not change. The changes will be:
• Elementary school will add 20 minutes to the school day, starting at 8:25 a.m. and dismissing at 3:30 p.m. each day except Wednesday. On Wednesdays, elementary school starts at 8:25 a.m. and dismisses at 2:05 p.m., adding 10 minutes to the schedule.
• Ames Middle School students will add 25 minutes to the day, starting at 8 a.m. and ending at 3:15 p.m. each day except Wednesday. On Wednesdays, middle school starts at 9:30 a.m. and dismisses at 3:15 p.m., adding 15 minutes to the schedule.
• High school hours are 7:50 a.m. to 3:05 p.m. except Wednesday when school starts at 9:15 a.m.
Taylor says the increase and change in the student instructional day was a part of a 2014 state legislative mandate whereby school districts are now required to have 1,080 hours of instruction annually (not including lunch time) as opposed to 180 instructional days. For most districts, including Ames, that meant increasing the length of the student day.
“What we found was that high school students were experiencing 1,156 hours annually while the middle school and elementary schools were significantly different,” Taylor says. “In fact, the middle school and elementary schools were barely at the state requirement of 1,080. The increase in elementary and middle school instructional time for 2014-15 is an effort to close that gap, resulting in 1,140 hours of annual instruction for middle school and elementary students.”
According to the district, the additional time:
• Allows a writing block, gives flexibility to increase math in grades three through five and allows for all grades to begin the day with morning meeting on most days.
• At the elementary level and at the middle school level, the additional minutes will allow teachers more time to work with students who need additional support to master learning or to extend learning after mastery.
• Provides more flexibility for teachers to collaborate on teaching strategies.
Other factors in the decision were:
• Changing the schedule makes the number of contact hours more consistent across grade levels.
• Earlier elementary start time is based on evidence elementary-aged children learn better earlier in the day.
• Building in more hours than the minimum could also reduce the need at the end of the school year to make up for school closures due to inclement weather.
For those parents who might be sending their first child to school this year, Lipsey has some advice:
• Visit the child’s school grounds before the school year starts and go inside the building, if possible, to look around.
• Talk to your child about what the school year may be like, focusing on the positive and helping him or her see it as a new exciting adventure.
• Once school starts, each night have your child lay out the clothes he or she will wear in the morning, decide what to pack for lunch (if he or she is taking home lunch), check to make sure all his or her homework is done, have his or her backpack packed and shoes by door. That way both you and your child are ready for the next day.
New students, new faculty, new staff and new policies are all part of a typical new year for Edwards Elementary School Principal David Peterson.
But this year, there’s something bigger that’s new not only to Peterson but to everyone else connected with the Ames elementary school.
Edwards is an entirely new school. New building. New playground. New address.
“Having a new school to look forward to has been a gradual growth in excitement for us,” says Peterson, who is entering his 10th year at Edwards. “Working with teachers and district committees to provide feedback in the design of the building, the colors for the carpet and walls, discovering the new furniture and technology that could be used in this learning environment brought great anticipation. Every time staff and I were able to tour the building through the construction phases brought different views of what this building would be like for learning. The excitement reached a peak when we were able to see the actual finished building and the new furniture in place.”
The new building is part of a $55 million bond referendum passed in 2012 to upgrade Ames’ five elementary schools. In addition to Edwards, new schools at Meeker and Fellows are in the works, while remodels at Sawyer and Mitchell are also planned.
Construction at Edwards began in November 2012. The new $12.2 million school, which features geothermal heating and cooling, security upgrades, larger classrooms, natural lighting and a large gymnasium, is located at 820 Miller Ave. It replaces the old school, which was opened in 1952 at 3622 Woodland St.
“The gymnasium, media center, cafeteria and art room speak for themselves, as all of the areas,” Peterson says of all the features he’s excited about. “The activity area in each grade level has so much potential for learning, and our new playground offers some interesting play options. But, the area I am most excited about is the front entrance for students, parents and visitors to come through. This is going to be a wonderful greeting for everyone that comes in, and it will be significantly safer for our students and staff during the school day. Once school begins, the front doors will be locked, and anyone entering will have to be buzzed into the office to enter the building.”
Peterson says feedback from students, parents, faculty and staff has been nothing but positive.
“The more times the staff toured the new building, and after the public got a chance to see it, the more the feedback has been in awe of this building,” Peterson says. “The comments have been the colors used and the flooring are beautiful; the furniture is ideal for learning and versatile; and the gymnasium, media center and cafeteria are huge. The surprise was to see the rooms with furniture and the nice space there is and activity areas that have so much potential. The feedback from our open house was all positive.”
The Ames Community School District will hold an official ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new school on Tuesday, Aug. 12.