'It's going to be a good year'

·3 min read

Aug. 5—It might seem impossible to tear yourself away from a puppy to go to your first day of school.

But, for Rosie Guerra, who tried in vain to train a new dog with her mom this summer, there wasn't much of a choice.

"It didn't get trained at all," the tiny third-grader told the Journal. "It still bites."

So Guerra eagerly jumped back into the swing of things at Hawthorne Elementary, which was one of Albuquerque Public Schools' 29 schools with extended academic calendars to start classes on Thursday.

And while the start of the school year came for Hawthorne earlier than most — schools with traditional calendars start next Wednesday — cutting summer break a little short is just fine with most of the community, Principal Heather Fritts says.

"We're ready," she said. "It's going to be a good year."

The school buzzed with excitement for students' first day back. Teachers poked their heads into the hallway and one remarked about how it was nearly time for class. One didn't bother waiting around and greeted kids as they shuffled through the school's doors.

The students seemed to be just as elated as their teachers and walked into their first day back from summer break with big smiles on their faces. They hugged their teachers and fist-bumped Superintendent Scott Elder, who joined the welcoming party.

Once students settled into their classrooms, they jumped to get started on their first activities of the school year. The first item on the agenda for Crystal Hall's mixed first- and second-grade class? Coloring.

Not everyone stayed within the lines, but they did a good job for their first day.

When excluding charter schools, a little over 5,750 students will participate in extended learning time programs throughout APS, according to Legislative Finance Committee research. That amounts to around 8% of non-charter school students.

Hawthorne, which was one of APS' first schools to extend both school years and days, holds what's known as a "Genius Hour" at the end of the day, Fritts said.

That allows students to choose subjects — such as gardening or dancing — that they're interested in, which, Fritts said, "really gives them something to look forward to."

Elder noted that, with the extra time in the school day, teachers have more opportunities for daily professional development where they can work together and look at students' work.

"That's where I really believe you're going to start seeing changes in student achievement," he said. "Giving adults time to do adult work ... it's really important."

As can be expected, starting the school year early meant a slightly sluggish return for some.

"I'm excited, but definitely the summer break was kind of short," school counselor Cindy Figueroa said. "We have longer days, too ... that makes it a little bit harder. But I love being here with the kids."

But having a shorter summer didn't bother Rubi Rodriguez, another third-grader at Hawthorne, one bit. She was just happy to be back with her friends and to study her favorite subject — science.

Ready to learn, she strode confidently into her first day wearing stylish pink sneakers. She seemed to know exactly where she is going.