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Minneapolis Hopes Its Spring Break Academy Will Boost Skills

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Earlier this month, while other Minneapolis students caught up on sleep—or, if they were lucky, traveled somewhere warm—a couple thousand students spent their one-week spring break going to school.

The students were participating in the Minneapolis Public Schools' first-ever Spring Break Academy, designed to boost the academic skills of students in grades 3 through 8. Held right before students began taking the annual Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, some classes focused on test-taking strategies and online practice tests, while others beefed up writing and math skills in small groups. (A field trip day with visits to locations like the Minnesota Zoo, the Science Museum of Minnesota, and the University of Minnesota's Raptor Center was also planned for the week, but was canceled when the city was hit by a major snowstorm.)

Thirteen schools held Spring Break Academy classes six hours a day from March 31 to April 4, starting at 8 a.m. each day. Some 159 teachers and other school workers gave up their spring breaks to lead classes and activities. Teachers volunteered for the gig, earning a $2,000 stipend for five days' work.

"Spring break was an opportunity to gain some instructional time for students," Bernadeia H. Johnson, superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools, told me. "For some of our students, spring break can become another time for learning if, for example, their families go on trips. But we know a number of our students are sitting at home playing video games."

The district only invited students who had scored near proficiency on the MCAs and might reach that level with a little extra work to take part in the week. Attendance was voluntary, but as the week wore on, some students showed up to be with their friends—or because watching TV at home was getting boring. "The best advertising we had was from students, who enjoyed the experience," Johnson said.

Benjamin Kimmel, a science teacher at Andersen United Community School, had the 14 students who came to his classes build rockets, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. He told the Star Tribune that the small group size allowed him to give more attention to each student. "You actually have the time to work one on one," he said. (During the regular school year, classes at the K-8 school have 20 to 25 students.)

The district plans to study whether the Spring Break Academy boosted participants' skills and MCA scores. If so, Spring Break Academy could become a regular part of the school calendar. The district is also considering adding a Winter Break Academy during the two weeks students currently have off for the seasonal and New Year's holidays.

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