Leeanna Ellis and Teresa Hoffman

On occasion, the topic of year-round school comes up. With summer break getting shorter, some people believe it's inevitable. But, in some states, school districts have gone in the opposite direction, opting to ditch the traditional five-day schedule for a four-day week. Many have done so to save money and help with teacher recruitment. While there's been no serious talk about adopting the schedule locally or statewide, Nebraska is dealing with issues of school funding. Should a four-day week be considered? Managing Editor Leeanna Ellis and Assistant Editor Teresa Hoffman debate.

Ellis: Stick with a 5-day week

Over the last decade, shortening the school week to four days has become increasingly common trend across the U.S., according the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Approximately 560 districts in 25 states have one or more schools on a four-day schedule. Districts have cited increasing budget costs as a reason for shortening the school week.

In Nebraska, at least eight districts — mostly small and rural — have opted for the shorter week. Starting this fall, Banner County Public Schools in western Nebraska will begin a four-day school week. The transition was approved the district's school board in February.

According to the Kearney Hub, to ensure the students receive the required instructional hours, the school day will be 10 minutes longer. Students will also have the opportunity to attend school on Fridays for enrichment activities.

While there may be pros to having a four-day school week, I can think of several cons — mainly parents who must now find child care on days when their kids aren't in school. That can be costly.

A lengthier school day can also be hard on younger students. As adults, we complain about working 12-hour days, how can we expect our children to spend that much time in the classroom?

The longer days may make up for that missed fifth day, but teachers and students may not work as effectively at the end of those long days.

Nutrition is another concern. Some families rely on those meals provided to their children during the school day. It's an added expense they must incur if the week is shortened.

A four-day school week doesn't always save districts money either.

The Oklahoma Department of Education studied the financial impact of the four-day week across the 16 school district that went to this schedule during the 2011-12 school year. Their findings showed that seven districts were able to save money, but nine of them actually spent more.

Though the thought of a three-day weekend is likely appealing to both students and teachers, keeping a five-day school week is better for all involved.

Hoffman: Four-day school week could work, with flexibility

Sometimes as a child, the biggest lessons I learned didn't come while I sat in a classroom, pencil in hand, taking notes or working on story problems.

Sure, school gave me the foundation I needed as I learned reading, writing, math and science and about our country and world during social studies classes.

But, there was — and still is — more to learning than what I picked up in school.

It's one of the reasons I'm a bit jealous of students today who get to participate in lessons that focus on a more hands-on approach to learning. The only hands-on approach I remember from my high school days is dissecting worms and frogs and it was more gross than cool.

Obviously, there are reasons certain classes are taught the more traditional way and there are lessons being taught today that no one would have thought about when I was in high school in the late 1980s.

But, times change, and schools continue to find ways to adapt to those changes.

For an estimated 560 school districts in 25 states, according to a Harvard Graduate School of Education report from 2018, the answer to the changing times has been to go to a four-day school week.

Many districts, according to the report, have adopted the schedule, in part, to save money. It's no secret school budgets are an issue in Nebraska, so I believe a four-day school week is an avenue worth exploring as educators and lawmakers address the funding of K-12 education.

But, the plan won't work without giving families options. While I believe a four-day school week would benefit students, school districts have to be flexible enough to realize it won't work for everyone and plan accordingly. They can't forget that some families may not be able to afford day care for their younger children and that some children may only be eating breakfast and lunch because they are in school.

With that in mind, my suggestion would be for school districts to set up a system in which teachers and other staff members work a certain number of Fridays during the school year and use that time for activities that can enhance what the students learn during the other four days, or give those who need it, a chance to get extra help.

There could also be time set aside for fun activities where students will pick up skills, such as how to work together and getting along with others, without realizing they are learning.

For the older students, districts could work with local businesses to give them the opportunity to learn a skill or trade while earning credits toward graduation or give them the chance to work with teachers on enrichment activities for the younger students.

Like it or not, we live in a world that's constantly on the go and constantly scrutinizing everything. Good or bad, we expect more from our schools. There's also people who say "kids need more time to be kids."

But, are we really giving them the opportunity?

A four-day school week is one solution to allowing "kids to be kids" if they want. Or, if they and their parents prefer, give them an opportunity to learn outside the classroom setting.

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