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Spokane Public Schools extending K-6 days by 30 minutes

Third-graders Kalae Rockford, left, and J.J. Moore laugh in surprise as water tension is broken by adding liquid soap, causing their “dome” of water droplets to break down and run off the surface of a penny on Thursday at Westview Elementary. (Jesse Tinsley)
Third-graders Kalae Rockford, left, and J.J. Moore laugh in surprise as water tension is broken by adding liquid soap, causing their “dome” of water droplets to break down and run off the surface of a penny on Thursday at Westview Elementary. (Jesse Tinsley)

Kindergartners through sixth-graders will spend more time in Spokane schools next year, and they won’t be twiddling their thumbs.

Depending on the elementary school, the students will learn more science, social studies, art or music, or possibly a combination of subjects.

Spokane Public Schools is changing its K-6 school schedule for the first time in at least two decades. Starting this fall, 30 minutes will be added to each day, catching up with other school schedules in Washington and around the nation.

District leaders gave community members and educators some leeway on how that time would be spent.

“Pretty much, they were able to dream,” said Matthew Henshaw, elementary school curriculum director. “This is an opportunity to harness the interests of our staff and the surrounding community.”

Science was a top pick for most of the new plans, “perhaps because teachers haven’t been able to give the topic the time they needed,” Henshaw said.

Social studies and technology, or infusing technology into other topics, came next. Expanding art instruction from three grades to seven and extending library time also came up in several schedules.

Westview is one of the elementary schools that chose to add two hours of science each week.

“When given the task of deciding what would be the most beneficial for kids, science is one of those areas that we decided would really augment their learning,” Principal Cathy Comfort said.

The topic is often squeezed into the students’ schedules.

If other subjects run too long, it’s “Oh well, didn’t get to science today,” said Tiffiny Santos, a Westview third-grade teacher.

Under the new plan, there will be a dedicated classroom where students will go to learn science two hours each week. A teacher who specializes in the subject will engage kids in science investigation, comprehension, experimentation and writing.

The district expects to hire 50 more teachers to accommodate schedule changes, Henshaw said. Bringing in specialists is beneficial to students and frees up classroom teachers to plan lessons for core subjects like math, reading and writing.

Although each school had flexibility in making a plan for extended school days, one of the rules was that no one could cut arts, only add.

Madison Elementary School embraced the arts.

“We had been looking into art as a way to teach core subjects through art for children who have a little different learning style,” Principal Shellye Horowitz said.

Educators want to use painting as a way to teach math, such as looking at proportions, or science, such as mixing colors or illustrating life cycles.

“Every child learns differently,” Horowitz said. “If we can create different ways to teach children we give them that opportunity.”