Back to school already? Year-round calendar begins for Houston area ‘pilot’ campuses

The district is taking part in a pilot program

HOUSTON – The 2021-2022 school year has already started at some Houston area schools that are piloting what TEA calls the Additional Days School Year or ADSY.

State lawmakers approved the voluntary incentive program before the pandemic, in 2019, which offers extra funds to schools that add 30 additional instruction days to the calendar.

“Normally, we do 180 days. Now it’s 210 days,” said Ermel Elementary principal Erik Torres. “Those 210 days provide us more opportunity to serve the kids and help them grow.”

The research highlighted on TEA’s website (from Boston Consulting Group) shows that most students’ learning “slides,” especially for low-income students, during the long summer break.

That “summer slide” leaves many low-income students as many as three grades behind by the end of elementary school.

“The kids are like, ‘Why are we here so early?’ And I’m like, ‘Because we want to get you prepared.” said Bush Elementary’s 4th-grade teacher, Brianna Blue.

KPRC 2 found schools in at least three Houston area school districts taking part in the program: Alief ISD, Aldine ISD and Spring ISD.

“A lot of them were out of school last year. We had a lot of virtual learners,” said principal Torres, who said 90% of his students qualify as low-income. “Being able to come back to school early and build that sense of community is impactful for the kids and the adults.”

The extra cash from the state-funded Ermel Elementary’s STEM class and teachers, among other things, the district said.

“Oh my goodness, it is awesome,” Audrey Judy Bush Elementary Principal, Gloria Price said. “We’ve been planning to pilot this program, just to close that ‘summer slide,’ and that learning gap with the kids, and the pandemic just so happened to hit. Parents save on daycare, save on electricity, save on groceries because the kids are back in school.”

The school calendar at Bush and Ermel Elementary School has been completely redesigned. The longest break is summer - from early June to early July - a weeklong break in September, and regular Thanksgiving, December, and Spring breaks.

“We’re always trying to play catch up as teachers from the previous year, so these 30 additional days will allow us to do that better and to do other grade-level things,” Blue said.

If the program works well for parents, students and educators, Alief, Aldine and Spring school districts and boards may consider expanding ADSY to other schools.

Other Texas, including the Houston area school districts, can choose to opt-in to the program in the future.

“Approximately 140 Texas public school systems will be implementing some form of the ADSY program during the 2021-22 school year,” a TEA spokesperson said on Monday.