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Longer Day Begins For Some CPS Students

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Disney II Pupils

Pupils arrive at Disney II Magnet Elementary School for the first lengthened school day. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 09/26/11 3:27 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — The school day is now longer for students at six Chicago Public elementary schools, and the pupils are taking it all in stride.

As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, in spite of the rain and the earlier start time, pupils arrived with big smiles on their faces at 8 a.m. at Disney II Elementary School, at 3815 N. Kedvale Ave. in the Old Irving Park neighborhood.

Disney II is one of a handful of schools that has broken ranks with the Chicago Teachers Union to agree to add time to its school day.

As a reward for lengthening their school days, each school is receiving an extra $150,000 in funding from the Chicago Public Schools. Teachers at the schools are receiving $1,250 bonuses and 2 percent raises.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody Reports

The offer came weeks after Emanuel and CPS chief executive officer Jean-Claude Brizard canceled negotiated 4 percent raises for all teachers, citing the district’s $700 million budget shortfall.

In all, 13 schools accepted the offer, and the longer day takes effect Monday at six of the schools.

But the Chicago Teachers Union said Monday that another 115 schools have rejected the offer of extra school funding and extra teacher pay for a longer school day this year.

Although the union has said it supports a longer school day, it has said CPS needs a more detailed and effective plan of how to spend the time before a longer school day should be adopted.

“There has been no meaningful discussion with educators, parents or the community on how to implement the longer school day,” CTU President Karen Lewis said in a prepared statement. “Without adequate planning, much of this extra time may turn into simply more test prep. The ‘Longer School Day’ political slogan cannot substitute for a coherent education plan.”

Disney II already had extended school hours – 45 minutes longer Monday through Thursday. But now, the school has lengthened the day by 90 minutes every day, for a total of 7 1/2 hours in class.

Children arriving for class Monday were glad about the longer school day, or so they said.

“I think it’s better for the kids,” said 4th grader Alisa Gonzalez, 9.

“It’s pretty good, because we’re going to learn a little bit more,” said her brother, 3rd grader Nelson Gonzalez, 8.

The Gonzalez kids were not the only ones who spoke approvingly of the new start time, and later dismissal time.

“I like it. I think it benefits the children, and it benefits the parents who stay a little bit later at work,” said their mother, Alisha Gonzalez.

The longer day also increases opportunities for the children to learn, said parent Todd Kibbey.

“The perk is the opportunity for kids to learn more – to be in the class, to have the recess; the extracurricular activities,” he said. “You need to burn off some of that energy when you’re a kid like that.”

And plenty of energy the children had. It was pretty obvious before school started.

“I feel good because we get more time at gym and recess, and we more get more time to do reading, and that’s what I love a lot,” said 4th grader Grace Owen.

“I’m really excited about more technology and all my favorites,” said 4th grader Charlie Wilber.

Added his mother, Kristine Wilber, “It enhances our children’s ability to have music, and gym, and all extras they might not have otherwise.”

But the CTU and other critics have complained that a complete and well-rounded curriculum is what is required, rather than a longer school day in which the use of the extra time is left unspecified.

Members of the “Raise Your Hand” coalition, a CPS parent advocacy group, agree that most parents want a longer day, but believe quantity should not trump quality.

“Most parents would prefer to have a quality-filled, well-rounded five-hour day, over a non-quality seven-hour day,” said Amy Smolensky of the “Raise Your Hand” steering committee.

The coalition has already had more than 1,200 responses to its online survey about the longer day, and Smolensky says some are concerned it could become too long.

“What a sixth or seventh or eighth grader can tolerate in terms of time and handle, is much different from what a younger child who’s 4 or 5 or 6 years old can handle,” she said.

The CTU has also complained that the extra time teachers are being asked to work is not covered by a mere 2 percent raise.

At Disney II, parents say they understand the sacrifice teachers are making.

“I want to thank our teachers, because I know it wasn’t an easy decision,” said parent Tiffany Owen.

Added parent Genina Monzon, “My mother’s an educator, and she’s not happy about it,” she said.

But Monzon says she is happy her 4th grade son benefits, and he didn’t mind at all.

“He just asked for extra snacks,” she said. So she threw in an extra bag of pretzels in his lunch bag.

In addition to Disney II, the other schools lengthening their day include Benjamin E. Mays Academy 838 W. Marquette Rd.; Skinner North Classical School, 640 W. Scott St.; Genevieve Melody Elementary, 412 S. Keeler Ave.; STEM Magnet Academy, 1522 W. Fillmore St.; and William H. Brown Elementary, 54 N. Hermitage Ave.

Seven other schools will implement the longer school day in the coming months – four next month, one in November, and two more in January.

City officials hope all schools will be onboard by the fall.

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