Durham school extends day for sixth graders

Extra 3 hours of study, guidance

Staff WriterSeptember 7, 2011 

— A low-performing Durham middle school will extend sixth-graders' school day by about three hours to prepare its students for a more successful future.

Starting today, Neal Middle School sixth-graders will remain in school until 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. Neal begins the school day at 7:20 a.m.

The school is partnering with Citizen Schools, a national nonprofit program that provides academic support to students. It's different from other after-school programs because it is mandatory and works more closely with schools, according to Stacey Gilbert, a spokeswoman for the Boston-based Citizen Schools.

During the additional hours, students will do their homework, identify future career interests and take "apprenticeships."

The apprenticeships will allow students to learn from corporate sponsors and connect what they are learning to what they aspire to be, said Jill Ullman, development director for Citizen Schools in North Carolina.

Sponsors include Cisco, Fidelity Investments, N.C. Central University Law School and Duke Law School.

The program costs about $650,000 for the first year and will involve 250 to 300 students, according to Ullman.

In general, Citizen Schools programs are funded by partnering school systems, foundations, organizations, individuals and sometimes state and federal funding, Gilbert said.

Neal has been identified as a transformation or turn-around school in the Durham Public Schools district. It has recently been renovated and has a new principal.

Neal met expected growth under the last two years' state ABCs of Public Education accountability program. About 50.7 percent of sixth-grade students were proficient, or doing grade-level work, in math in 2009-10, up from 43.6 percent the year before. About 41.1 percent of sixth-grade students were proficient in reading, up from 33.3 percent, according to the district's website.

"Citizen Schools is a big part of what we anticipate is going to be a big turnaround for this school," said Jeff Nash, a spokesman for Durham Public Schools.

"We think if we can get that foundation, it will help (students) through middle school and into high school as well," he said.

ldouglas@newsobserver.com or 919-932-2008

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