The Socorro Consolidated School District is halfway through our first year with a four-day school week. In addition to tutoring and extracurricular opportunities offered on Fridays, the district provides food and bus service to support students and families on all five weekdays.

What are some of the Friday opportunities?  At the elementary level, our partnership with Rio Grande Educational Cooperative provides curricula and activities that promote innovation, cooperation, and creativity. Sarracino Middle School has utilized Fridays for experiential learning through field trips across New Mexico, including the world-famous Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and Bandelier National Monument.  Socorro High School students requested credit recovery options to get back on track after online learning through the pandemic.  In addition, Fridays provide opportunities for SHS students to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities, including drama, welding, and yearbook.

But how is the four-day school week working?  The District recently surveyed parents and school staff to find out.  Of the 331 parents who completed the survey, 79 percent said it worked well for their family, and 21 percent said it didn’t work.  Many parents expressed appreciation for having extra time with family or to make appointments.  They also liked having time for extracurricular activities, including the Friday programs, and felt like it helped with student mental health.  On the other hand, criticism of the Friday programs includes inconsistent scheduling, the need for more activities that facilitate social interaction and support students’ interests, and improved communication about the programs and scheduling.

About half of the 147 staff responses came from teachers. The four-day school week works well for 92 percent of the respondents but doesn’t work for 8 percent.  The benefits included more time to prepare for classes and for professional development, with time to rest over the weekend.  Staff also schedule more of their appointments on Fridays, which alleviates the need for substitute teachers, and they are spending more time with family which improves the work-life balance. However, some teachers noted that it was harder to get through material with the four-day school week.

Staff and teachers were also asked how they feel the new schedule works for students. Seventy percent said it works very well, 23 percent said fairly well, and 7 percent said that it was not working well for students.  They reported that students seemed more rested and motivated, and that students had more time for extracurricular activities or personal time.  Many reported that they appreciated the Fridays for students to get additional help or to catch up, and it has improved attendance in schools.  Some respondents had a different observation regarding student attendance but noted that some of the absences could also be a result of COVID.  Attendance in Friday programs is low (ranging from 50 to 150 for all grades), and not enough students are benefiting from this opportunity.

At this point it’s too early to measure the impact of the four-day school week on academic performance, and it will be very difficult to disentangle that from the impact of the pandemic.  In the meantime, these results can help us identify what’s working and what we need to improve.  Many families and staff really appreciate the extra day for catching up, family time, and recovering.  However, as a district, we need to strengthen Friday learning opportunities by adding programs that engage students, foster personal connection, and restore mental health.  Some ideas include programs in robotics and drones, culinary arts, and coordinating internship opportunities with local businesses for students to gain on-the-job training that supports our local economy.  We also need to continue to improve consistency in scheduling and communication. Although the full benefits of a four-day school week and Friday programming are still being realized, the experience so far has been positive, and building the foundation for creating opportunity is underway.

This column represents the views of the author and does not reflect those of New Mexico Tech, the Socorro Consolidated School District, 100% Socorro, or any other organizations, affiliations or their members. Sessions is a school board member.

Sharon Sessions, Guest Columnist