Every weekday morning, Makenna Morck has to rush out the door by 7:30 to catch the bus. Four days a week, it drops her at Granby Elementary School, where Makenna is a fifth-grader. But on Fridays, Makenna rides right past the school and on down the road to the Winter Park ski resort, where she spends the day on the slopes.
That's in the winter. Once the snow melts, Makenna spends her Fridays in the town park playing with her friends. Or sometimes, "I just hang out and watch TV."
Makenna gets to ski or play or "just hang out" every Friday because her school is one of the first to try a new idea in American education: the four-day school week. In most of the country, kids go to school five days each week for about six hours each day. At Granby Elementary, school meets for 7.5 hours per day for four days. If you do the multiplication, you'll see that both schedules provide 30 hours of school each week.
"My cousins say, 'Oh, you're so lucky, no school on Fridays!' " the 11-year-old Makenna says. "And I guess they're right. If you told me now I had to get up and go to school on Friday morning, I'd just say, 'No way!' "
All of the schools, from elementary to high school, in Colorado's Grand County operate on the four-day week. The main reason for the short week is to save money. Because the schools have to pay bus drivers and janitors and lunchroom cooks for only four days each week, the cost of running the schools is lower.
Grand County is high in the Colorado mountains. From the playground at Granby Elementary, you can see a half-dozen snow-capped peaks higher than 12,000 feet.
The winters are so cold -- often below zero when Makenna leaves for school in the morning -- that the county is sometimes called "the icebox of the nation." So it costs the school district a lot of money to heat the classrooms. That's another reason the four-day week saves money: The schools can turn down their furnaces on Friday.
There are two big ski resorts, Winter Park and SolVista, in Grand County. Both of them give all the local schoolchildren and teachers free lift tickets on Fridays. "About half of our students will be on the ski slopes every Friday," says Janet Liddle, the principal at Granby Elementary.
Like Makenna, most of the students and teachers at Granby Elementary love the four-day schedule. A survey of parents in Grand Country showed that they prefer the shorter schedule, too. Some parents have arranged with their bosses to get Fridays off so they can be with their kids.
But not everybody is happy with the move to a four-day school week.
Some experts say that American schools need to add more teaching time to the current schedule so kids have more hours to learn. When students from different countries take tests in geography, arithmetic and science, Americans usually score lower than kids the same age in Europe and Japan. So the argument is that America should have more days of school each year, not fewer.
But for school districts that don't have much money, the four-day week is attractive. This year, about 100 school districts in seven states have moved to four days. Some close the schools on Monday, but most of them have Friday off. Another half-dozen states are studying the idea.
Maybe your school will make the switch some day.
-- T.R. Reid
Granby, Colorado, fifth-grader