NEW ORLEANS - On an early August afternoon, hundreds of students are learning to draw, sing, or play inside ReNew Cultural Arts Academy in the Irish Channel.
While other kids are getting ready to wrap up summer break, students at the year round charter are in their third week of school.
ReNew Schools CEO Gary Robichaux believes year round schools help students maintain momentum throughout the year.
“It's not rocket science. The more time you're in school and the more time you're learning and reading and doing math, the more you're going to excel,” said Robichaux. “A lot of students that have traditional summers where they've been off for 12 weeks do come back far behind.”
But the school doesn’t just begin the year earlier than traditional schools.
On Monday, it also became one of eight schools in the nation to expand its hours thanks to a half million dollar grant from the Obama administration.
All pre-K through 8th grade students attend for nine hours, from 8 a.M. to 5 p.M., with the last two hours focused on art and sports.
ReNew hired 30 local artists to teach children during that time period.
But the Cultural Arts Academy isn’t the only school in the New Orleans metro area that has expanded the school day or lengthened the school year. Dozens of other schools are taking similar measures.
“I do think more time on task and year round schooling is going to become the normal way we do it in the future,” said John Ayers, executive director of Tulane University’s Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives. “They do start earlier every year and I just think it's the recognition of this learning loss problem.”
In the metro area, KIPP New Orleans students go back to school Tuesday.
Children enrolled in St. Tammany Parish and Jefferson Parish Public Schools begin Friday.
RSD and OPSB schools begin next week.
“Summer break is essentially a holdover from the agricultural calendar, when kids had to work and pick cotton and pick corn,” said Ayer, who said traditional ideas of summer break are changing as the number of households in which both parents work increases.
Experts say a shorter summer break can mean a big boost for kids who need it most.
“It's low income kids with nothing to do, possibly with working parents, or parents who don't have the resources to provide for a camp experience, so it really does make sense in New Orleans that some of these charters are pushing the time envelope I'm glad their doing it,” said Ayers.
Hundreds of people expressed mixed emotions on WWLTV’s Facebook page.
"August is still fully summer and it's just crazy to send kids back so soon. Let kids have some down time with their families," said Cynthia Matranga.
"There is no way it is economical to fill a school and keep it cool in August in Louisiana. Too hot!!!" said Carey Barfield.
But several parents at the ReNew Cultural Arts Academy were in favor of a shorter summer break and longer school days.
“They get a small break, but they shouldn't get an extensive break because if they do, they lose some of the schooling. They won't retain everything,” said Tamika Carter, as she picked up several children.
“I think even the longer days when it comes time for him to get a job, he'll be able to handle that. Getting up early, going, staying the entire day,” said Alicia Diggs, the mother of a pre-K son.
But most importantly, said Ayer, it is only helpful for students to spend extra time in the classroom if they are getting quality instruction.