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Some students get head start on classes; With summer waning, few seem to lament early beginning to school year

No students carried picket signs or grabbed bullhorns to air their displeasure Monday morning outside the walls of the Charter School for Applied Technologies.

The school year began at 8 a.m. sharp.

On Aug. 22.

And while a few students looked a little grumpy or whined about having to use an alarm clock two weeks before Labor Day, the mood seemed surprisingly upbeat about returning to school so early.

"I'm really excited about it," seventh-grader Menoua Siraki said. "I'm glad to be back, because I can see all my friends and stuff like that."

"It's school, but you're with your friends, and you're learning," classmate Jeremy Samuel added. "That's great."

The Charter School for Applied Technologies, on Kenmore Avenue in the Town of Tonawanda, has a school year of at least 190 days, compared with 180 in traditional public schools. The 7 1/2 -hour school day also is longer than it is at most other schools.

Classes in Buffalo and other traditional public schools begin just after Labor Day. While some charter schools -- including Enterprise Charter School, where classes began Aug. 9 -- start before that, Aug. 22 clearly is one of the earliest dates for the return to school.

"The whole school system was built on an agrarian society, where you had to farm," said Andrew J. Lyle, the school's principal for kindergarten through eighth grade. That obviously no longer applies in urban and suburban school districts.

"We feel that with the longer school day and the longer school year, we're [better] able to make sure that our students meet the mastery levels mandated by the state," Lyle explained.

So the school day includes 90 minutes of reading, 60 minutes each in math, science and social studies, plus 45 minutes of physical education.

That makes educational sense, but what's with these kids? Trading their bathing suits, video games and days of leisure for a 7 1/2 -hour day sitting behind a school desk? And barely uttering a whimper?

Brief interviews Monday morning with about a dozen students, staff members and parents at the school revealed that most students -- at least at the middle school level -- were ready to put the summer behind them.

In short, a lot of them were bored.

"In all honesty, I do think the kids are excited to be back here," said Tom Lucia, public relations director for the school. "Lower-income families have a harder time filling their summers with enriching activities for their kids."

"A lot of them are home, fending for themselves," Lucia said of the summertime habits of students from working families. "So it's the video games or the TV serving as the baby sitter."

Before anyone thinks this is an April Fools' joke -- students clamoring to return to school early -- students did voice some mild protests.

Seventh-grader Tiarra Schultz, for example, said she was kind of happy and kind of sad about returning to school after a recent camping trip in Kentucky.

"Two of my friends are probably outside now, playing and eating junk food," Tiarra said at midmorning.

How did that make her feel?

"Hungry," she replied.

"It makes me feel left out, but I'd rather get an education than get fat."

Raven Smith, who turns 12 this week, also had mixed feelings. She was happy to see her friends again, and she liked moving into seventh grade and switching classrooms during the day. But she didn't like waking up early and staying at school later.

Lucia seemed a bit surprised about the students' mostly positive reactions. His office even put out a somewhat tongue-in-cheek news release that stated, "School Opens at CSAT. Adults: 'Yippeee!' Kids: 'Yuckeee!' "

That was somewhat true.

As Lyle said, "You see kids with moping faces, and the parents are smiling ear to ear."

Monday, the first day of school, was a short day, with an 11 a.m. dismissal time.

Keith Page was there to see his son, Ryan, after the first day of first grade.

"Eight weeks is enough," the father said. "He had a great summer, but it's time to get back to work."

Just then, Ryan spotted his father and had a big smile on his face.

"I didn't cry," he said proudly. "Where's Mommy?"

Some things never change.