This is what Mondays look like at schools in Chattooga County, Georgia. (Photo: iStock/Diane Diederich)
Like summer vacation and the 3 o’clock end-of-the-day bell, a five-day school week is one of those standby traditions few public schools across the country have ever changed.
Except in Chattooga County, Ga., that is. Six years ago, this rural county north of Atlanta near the Alabama and Tennessee borders made the unusual decision to scrap the five-day school week in favor of a four-day, Tuesday-through-Friday schedule.
You read that right: Every child from pre-K through high school has Monday off in this part of Georgia. And it’s not just the kids who are thrilled to have a three-day weekend. School administrators stand by the shorter week as a way to save money while improving test scores and student focus.
“Everything comes down to the dollar, and by switching to a four-day week, we have one day less to pay for gas for the school buses, substitute teachers, and power for the school buildings,” Jeff Martin, principal of Chattooga High School, tells Yahoo Parenting.
“Because we save money, we don’t have to do what other school districts do when they have budget problems, like cut out electives such as music and gym,” says Martin. In fact, Chattooga County has been able to hire more teachers for its two elementary schools, middle school, and high school.
That’s helped give test scores in math and writing a boost. “We’re now above the state average on test scores,” says Martin. “Kids aren’t pulled out of class during the week to go to the doctor or dentist, because parents can take them on Monday, so they have fewer absences.”
Of course, something had to give so Chattooga County students could meet the state requirement of being in school a total of 150 hours per year. “We extended our school day so it goes from 7:40 to 3:45,” says Martin. “But we still have the same vacation schedule and holidays off.”
Martin encourages other school administrators to look into the four-day school week idea. And considering how many districts are dealing with slashed budgets, it’s something that just might be adopted soon in other communities.
Yet while it works for Chattooga County, that doesn’t mean it’ll be as successful elsewhere, Lori Day, educational psychologist and consultant, tells Yahoo Parenting, “It’s wonderful to save money, but I wonder if momentum and focus are lost when kids have three days off,” says Day. “And not all parents will be able to find and pay for child care during the extra day.”
Addressing the possibility of child-care difficulty, Martin says Chattooga County has a Boys and Girls club that offers after-school child care and is open all day Monday, so the issue doesn’t seem to have been a problem there. And as for losing momentum to learn, he says, “after three days, our kids come back to school refreshed and focused.”
Older children who may end up spending their Mondays without parental supervision may be at risk, Day points out. “Studies show that the most dangerous time of day for kids is 3 to 6 p.m., the hours when school is out and parents are not yet home from work,” she says. “This is when kids have the opportunity to experiment with drugs and get in trouble, she adds.
Also, for kids who live in unsafe neighborhoods, being home all day can put them in danger. “This is why a lot of urban school districts have extended the school day and year,” says Day, “because they know their kids are safer in school than out of it.”