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Charter school gets jump on school year

It might just be the middle of August, but summer is over for students at Charter School for Applied Technologies.

As they walked into school Monday morning armed with their backpacks and new school supplies, they said goodbye to sleeping in, spending days outside and watching endless hours of TV.

The school’s kindergarten through fifth-graders have 191 days of school this year, while most area schools have around 180.

Principal Andrew Lyle says the goal is to prepare youngsters for college and careers.

“Schools were based on an agrarian society, where kids were supposed to farm all summer long,” he said as students settled into their classrooms. “That no longer happens. So to get them into real-life situations, we all don’t have summers off, we all work. The quicker we can start school, the better off it is for the kids.”

This year, the Town of Tonawanda school, on Kenmore Avenue, is filled with only kindergarten through fifth-grade students. Its sixth- through eighth-graders have moved into the former Holy Angels Academy building, on Shoshone Street in North Buffalo, and will start next Monday.

Last year, more than 80 percent of the students came from families at or below the poverty level, said Justina Fetterly, the school’s director of communications. And bringing students into the classroom for most of the year can give them opportunities they don’t have at home.

“These kids don’t have the opportunities that suburban kids do,” Fetterly said. “It gives them the opportunity to socialize more, learn more, be active more frequently and achieve higher results at a higher rate.”

There’s an achievement gap between lower- and higher-income students, and it can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities, according to the National Summer Learning Association. While children from middle- to high-income families can afford attending programs like summer camp, many low-income students fall behind their peers come fall.

CSAT wants to combat that.

“The demographics that we serve, to get them here earlier we get rid of the summer gap,” Lyle said. “We start them right off from the get-go in reading and writing and math.”

As dozens of parents walked their young ones into school Monday morning, they seemed to be on board with that plan.

Kara Sweet, of Kenmore, was happy as she walked her son into school to start fourth grade.

“I know they say America lags behind other countries in education,” she said. “I know that other countries start earlier and have longer school years. I think it’s fantastic and very progressive.”

Erica Baez’s four children attend CSAT, and that makes her more confident that they’ll compete with suburban students for jobs in the future.

“I think it’s good for kids to start early,” she said. “They get to read more, they’re not behind. I think it keeps them from being behind.”

Coming from urban areas, many CSAT parents want their kids to compete with suburban students and international schools, which have longer schools years than America.

Most schools in the states require 175 to 180 days of school per year. Children in India and China spend 25 percent to 30 percent more time in school than students in the U.S., according to the Center for Public Education.

But still, students need a break and some fun, say some parents, like Kevin Webb.

“I think it’s too early,” said Webb, as he held the hand of his daughter Lauren on her first day of kindergarten at CSAT. “They need time to enjoy themselves. They shouldn’t start until at least September.”