At Fiske Elementary in Woodlawn, kids could tell there was something special about Monday’s classes.
“It’s a new day because we’re gonna spend a longer time in school today,” said first grader Michael Morris, 6. “We get to spend more time with the teacher. It’s gonna be easier if we have our brains on.”
Let out in midday for their first regular recess in at least eight years, Fiske kindergarteners and first graders skipped and then ran toward the playground, where they jumped rope, threw balls and played London Bridge.
“I love recess. Recess is fun. You can run around. We’re excercising,” said first grader Kasey Gullens, 6.
Fiske was among six schools to start a longer school day Monday. So far, teachers at 13 schools have agreed to Chicago Teacher Union contract waivers allowing the longer day by January for an estimated $1.8 million. They will net two percent raises out of the deal; schools receive up to $150,000 in discretionary money for joining the pilot.
CTU officials contend more than 100 other elementary schools have voted informally or formally against a longer day this school year. The union wants to negotiate the ramifications of a longer day after the current contract expires June 30.
So far, using the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools where Emanuel sends his kids as a model, CTU officials have proposed extending the student day 75 minutes. Their plan would put a second language in every school, require more teachers but not add additional minutes to existing teachers’ days.
Fiske added more time to reading, math and science and squeezed in a new recess to its extra 90 minutes.
“It’s the new normal,” said Fiske Principal Cynthia Miller. “The money was not an incentive for us. We’re doing what’s right for children.”