DIXFIELD — The local school district has extended classes by one hour per day for five weeks to make up for winter storm cancellations.

Regional School Unit 56, comprising the towns of Dixfield, Canton, Carthage and Peru, has added the hour to Dirigo Elementary School in Peru, T.W. Kelly Middle School and Dirigo High School, both in Dixfield. The longer days began this past Monday.

The board of directors voted in January to extend the days so seniors at Dirigo High School could graduate on the school’s traditional date, the first Friday in June.

Dirigo Elementary School Principal Charlie Swan said pupils will get more academic time, including additional STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) instruction.

“These activities are things that maybe they might not have enough time to do during a regular day,” he said.

“I also created a rotating ‘specials’ block where each grade will meet three times during the five weeks with our physical education, art, guidance and library teachers at the end of the day as a grade level to play some games and have some physical movement,” Swan said. “With nice weather, this might involve sledding, snowshoeing, (or other outdoor activities).”

He said special education and Title I staff are using the time to provide more interventions for pupils who need support or who are struggling.

“The change most impacts our after-school program, as it will end at the same time, meaning that we will not have as much program time during this stretch,” he said. “Over the past couple of years during these extended days, some students are obviously more tired and some struggle behaviorally more, but overall, the majority of students seem to adjust OK.”

Middle School Principal Jason Long said in a letter to parents that the first seven periods will each be increased by 5 minutes, and the remaining 25 minutes will be added to the final period.

“We will use the redesigned final period of the day as a time for all students to work with staff in small groups and focus on math or reading skills tailored to the students’ needs,” Long said. “Because all students have room for improvement, all students will participate in this ‘back to fundamentals’ approach that we will call ‘Focus.’

He said all students will have an opportunity to get a little extra physical activity each week, “although the format will be different from what we had in the past. Students will continue to have access to chorus, strings and keyboarding, industrial arts, French, Spanish, Region 9 Exploration, visual arts, River Valley Rising’s Positive Cougar Club, and Jobs for Maine Graduates without missing any regular academic classes.”

High School Principal Lisa Twomey said the extra hour is being used to make up the block of classes missed during the storm cancellations and for Response to Intervention, commonly referred to as RTI.

“RTI is an educational best practice that asks teachers to track students’ responses to vetted interventional strategies designed to help all students demonstrate academic proficiency,” Twomey said.

“During the extended RTI period, we offer direct instruction and support to students who need it most, sometimes pairing students who are meeting the standard with those who are not, so that students are benefiting from both teacher and peer instruction, guidance and collaboration.”

She added, “With standardized tests like the SAT in early April and Advanced Placement exams in early May, this extended day provides the time for meaningful instruction now — when it is most needed — as opposed to mid-June, which would have been the case if we had responded to school closings with the traditional approach of adding days to the end of the school year.”

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