District launching Saturday program

The school week is about to get a little longer for some Rock Hill elementary students, who will begin attending classes on Saturday in the new year.

In January, the Rock Hill school district plans to launch a Saturday school for about 130 students, with the aim of helping more perform well on state standardized tests.

"It was our desire ... to reach the children who have low self esteem, little background for success in education and stay embarrassed at being in the upper grades and yet behind," Mary Chandler, principal of Independence Elementary School, told the Rock Hill school board on Monday.

The voluntary school will be housed at Independence, but it will serve elementary school students from across the Rock Hill district. Students will attend class for about three hours on Saturday mornings, and the focus will be on reading, writing and math, Chandler said.

The school will target fourth- and fifth-grade students who came very close to scoring "basic" on the state's Palmetto Achievement Challenge Tests but didn't quite make it, said Superintendent Lynn Moody.

"We think if they were given some extended time and additional help, we could push them over the bubble," Moody said. "Maybe this would be all it takes to keep them on grade level."

About 180 students were invited to participate in the Saturday school, and about 130 have signed up, school officials said. Participation will be free, and bus and food services will be available.

'Pressure release'

Moody said Rock Hill officials got the idea for the Saturday school from schools across the country that are known as the Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP. In these schools, the concept of additional classroom time has been successful.

KIPP schools typically are taxpayer-funded public charter schools, many of which serve fifth- through eighth-graders.

Students in most KIPP schools attend school from 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. and on some Saturdays, said Steve Mancini, spokesman for the national KIPP organization.

"Instead of being a pressure cooker, it's a pressure release," Mancini said. "When you have more time, it allows you to do more things."

According to KIPP's Web site, close to 80 percent of students who completed eighth grade at a KIPP school went to college.

Rock Hill's Saturday program will not be a KIPP school, but it is based on the model of extended time. The school will run from 8:45 a.m. to noon and will last for 12 or 13 weeks.

The district already has hired nine full-time and seven part-time teachers for the program. Moody said the cost of the program to the district, including supplies and payment for the staff, is expected to be about $30,000.