Shorten the School Week, Grow the Town?

8 Feb

It’s no surprise to most folks familiar with Texas that football is a major part of the local culture. Much of Texas’ image includes the Cowboys and Friday Night Lights. Even the smallest towns have 6-man teams, an adaptation of the game that most outside of Texas, or even in the major urban centers of the Lone Star state may not have heard about previously. The smaller team is intended to keep the team going, so the villages of west and southwest Texas can still participate in tpress releasehe time-honored tradition of high school football. The NFL QB Colt McCoy is from such a small town (Tuscola, Texas).

While Texas continues to grow faster than the rest of the country, (Texas’ Growth in Population), the state isn’t growing evenly. There are many small towns and villages in the western part of the state (which is larger geographically than many regions in the rest of the country), where the population is dropping. The boom and bust cycles of oil, as well as the changes in the agricultural industry, have resulted in young people moving away. They take their knowledge and families with them. Thus schools struggle to fill the roster of the 6-man football squad as well as the 10th grade pre-calc class.

One district has taken matters into their own hands. The west Texas town of Rowena (population 714) has one school that served 56 students from preschool to grade 8 in the last school census in 2014 (Olfen ISD). District Superintendent Gabriel Zamora saw the decline in both his student population, and potentially, the town and decided to think creatively.

Starting in the 2016-2017 school year, Olfen Independent School District will offer a 4-day instructional week, the 5th day as an outlet for tutoring and enrichment activities. Promoting their school as a ‘small school with a big heart’ and recognizing that not all districts would find this arrangement appealing, Zamora explained in a recent press release that the community came together to reach this compromise. “It also means that on the optional day we will be able to better involve members of the surrounding communities in providing enrichment activities such as: karate, leatherworking, pottery, tumbling, etc. These types of enrichment activities are difficult to implement for a rural district such as ours, but now the possibilities are unlimited.” Zamora has taken a gamble, perhaps the first in Texas and certainly one of the few such arrangements in the country. Rural schools across the US will be watching with interest.

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