Two-fifteen p.m. is the end of the school day for the many Hamilton County students who begin classes at 7:15 a.m. It's time for sports, rec centers and video games. Maybe even some homework.
But at 2:15 at Dalewood Middle, teachers were just revving up. On Monday, they kicked off their so-called "extended day," an extra hour and 45 minutes to be used for instruction and remediation twice a week. The extended day is part of a $10 million grant given to the county's five iZone schools, which were grouped together for scoring among the lowest 5 percent of Tennessee schools on state tests.
And teachers say the extra time allows them to do the unusual, creative and hands-on activities that are hard to fit into the usual school day. Teachers aren't allowed to just plop students in their desks for an extra dose of bookwork or worksheets, Principal Christian Earl said.
"With this we're still teaching them," he said. "But it's almost like they don't know they're learning. It's not the typical 'sit and get.'"
And Monday afternoon, you'd hardly know that kids were at school way past their usual dismissal time. Sixth-grade teachers dressed up in safari hats, leather boots and khaki vests in keeping with the theme of archaeology. In social studies class, kids learned the tools of the trade with plastic knives, shovels and compasses. In the art room, they made their own version of fossils. And kids dug through a kiddie pool of sand looking for artifacts from the Greeks, Romans and other ancient civilizations that they would classify by time periods.
Throughout the school day, teachers kept their after-hours activities a secret from kids, who wondered what the extra time would bring and why the teachers were dressed up in costumes.
"Most of the kids were like, 'What are we going to be doing? Why are you dressed up like that?'" said math teacher Raquel Clark.
And that excitement kept the kids interested, even after being at school for nearly nine hours on Monday.
"They're a little loud, but they look like they're engaged to me," said iZone Director Le Andrea Ware, as kids sifted through the sand with the enthusiasm of tots on the playground.
The extended day is just one piece of the iZone's turnaround work. Aside from the hiring of central office staffers like Ware, the three-year grant allowed schools to add extra staff members, training and technology. And the investment and new opportunities have new and old teachers alike excited for what's possible.
Social studies teacher Scottie Caldwell said this is her 30th and final year of teaching. But it will be a memorable one.
"This is actually my most exciting year," she said. "I like doing things outside the box. I think kids need that instead of just books and paper."
Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at 423-757-6249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.