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Popular year-round schools program expands for 2024-25 school year

Former DPS Parent Jill Berrong and daughter Natalie Berrong


Jill Berrong knows a thing or two about how well the Durham Public Schools year-round calendar works for students and families. Her daughter Natalie attended year-round schools all 13 years: six at Holt Elementary, then seven at The School for Creative Studies. 


“We found that we absolutely love it,” said Berrong of the year-round schedule. And she’s not alone. The popularity of the Durham Public Schools year-round calendar has resulted in the district substantially growing the program for the 2024-25 school year.


Next year, three schools - Hope Valley, Oak Grove and W.G. Pearson elementary schools - will offer the year-round calendar to accommodate a growing demand. This move, part of DPS’s Growing Together initiative, will also make year-round options available in each of the school district’s five regions. Holt, Easley and Pearsontown Elementary, along with Rogers-Herr Middle School and The School for Creative Studies currently operate on year-round calendars. (Under the Growing Together initiative, the School for Creative Studies will transition from serving grades 6-12 to serving grades 6-8 to accommodate hundreds of more students with a comprehensive middle school program.) 


Growing Together also includes elementary Dual Language Immersion programs in each of the five regions, along with the provision of STEM programs daily in every elementary school and district-wide accessibility to Montessori and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs.


Year-round schedule supports social, emotional well-being and academic success

A year-round calendar operates with nine-week sessions followed by breaks of approximately three weeks with a roughly five-week summer break. Berrong said this schedule allowed Natalie to thrive academically in her elementary and secondary school years. 


“I do think that in her case it helped having that shorter amount of time off (during the summer), so she did retain more when she went back the next year,” said Berrong. “It felt like an easier transition for her.”


Natalie was a straight-A student for many of her years in DPS and is now wrapping up her freshman year at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she received a merit scholarship.


Pearsontown Elementary Principal Asia Cunningham said the year-round calendar ensures retention from one school year to the next.


“The biggest part is the continuous learning cycle with year-rounds. You don’t have a ‘summer slide,’” said Cunningham. “There's only a three-week break (in fall, winter and spring) and approximately five weeks in the summer, so you don’t see the loss of skills that you typically see during the summer break, waiting for the new school year to start. You have academic engagement throughout the year.”


Frequent breaks are good for students, but the fact that they’re not too long minimizes boredom. Many students actually look forward to school starting back.


“You also think about social and emotional safety for kids,” added Cunningham. “We see our students excited for their break, but they also know they’re coming back in just three weeks, so you get to maximize on some of the social and emotional opportunities for the students.”


Refreshing for staff and convenient for scheduling family time


Cunningham said that the year-round calendar also helps with teacher retention, as year-round teachers don’t have to endure extensive stretches between breaks. They enjoy the time off after nine weeks, as it gives them the opportunity to refresh and rejuvenate.


“Principals love it, too, because it gives us the breaks we need to adequately plan for a productive school year,” she said. 


For parents, child care is paramount, and Cunningham says the year-round calendar works beautifully in making arrangements. 


“(Parents) love that they are not having to look for child care for months,” said Cunningham, who added that DPS has partnerships with several community organizations that do provide child care and academic enrichment activities for families who need it. Such partnerships include the Durham YMCA, Durham Arts Council, Boys and Girls Clubs of Durham, Durham Parks and Recreation, Museum of Life and Science, Kidzu, and more.


Berrong said that Natalie’s summers were a bit more productive than hers as a child in the traditional program. 


“Back then you sat around for three months watching ‘The Price is Right,’ eating SpaghettiOs and driving your siblings insane,” she said, laughing. She added that she would sometimes take advantage of Durham Arts Council programs for Natalie, but she was also able to keep her busy and engaged with activities both at home and on vacations. 


Planning vacations in the fall and winter can often be easier and much more affordable for families than summertime, when it seems the rest of the world is vacationing all at once, said Cunningham.


Berrong concurred: “You’re starting the school year in mid-July, and you’re ready for a break by mid-September. That is the optimal time to take a vacation just about anywhere,” she said. “It really helped out with coordinating our work life and being able to see people we wouldn’t normally see, and going places we might not normally be able to afford (in summertime).”


Find out  more about year-round school offerings, schedules and the application process.