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Students in Cincinnati elementary schools didn’t get a full summer break from their classrooms this year, and educators are hoping the change makes a difference in student achievement.

During the month of June, elementary students were given an opportunity to participate in the Fifth Quarter program, spending several weeks with their teacher for the upcoming school year and getting a jump start on new material.

“We focused on acceleration for next year, working toward state standards in core areas,” Lauren Mitchell, deputy superintendent for Cincinnati Public Schools, told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “We saw about a 30 percent increase in the number of students participating in summer programs.”

Some schools had a participation rate as high as 75 percent, she said.

The Cincinnati Public School system serves more than 33,000 students in 58 schools. About 70 percent of the students are black, and 27 percent are white.

Like urban systems across the country, CPS faces stiff challenges.

On Monday, the school board is expected to vote on its budget that could include more than $20 million in cuts for items such as supplements for coaches, school crossing guards and reductions in transportation services.

School superintendent Mary Ronan said this has not been an easy summer for her, grappling with difficult budget decisions to reduce spending and avert a deficit as long as possible.

While the school system is having to cut back and watch spending, it has received some financial help from other sources to help achieve some of its goals.

A five-year Developing Futures in Education Grant from the GE Foundation funds initiatives to help improve student scores and learning in math and science, close achievement gaps and encourage more students to attend college.

The grant focuses on improved math and science teaching, enhanced curriculum development, systemic change across the entire school district and heightened school, business and community collaboration, according to a statement from GE.

A major component of the program relies on high-quality professional development to enhance the ability of teachers to use meaningful, innovative and research-based strategies in the classroom.

Sixteen CPS schools were identified as turnaround schools, and principals receive additional support and training to help turn the schools around, Mitchell said.

High schools have also been included in recent initiatives for change.

“We want all of our students to graduate and be prepared for college,” Mitchell said. “They take the ACT on campus for free in the 11th grade. This allows us to develop a customized plan to better prepare them for graduation and college.”

The graduation rate in Cincinnati schools has increased to about 82 percent, Mitchell said. The increased focus on preparation and also smaller schools that give students an opportunity to attend the school of their choice with a specialized focus are part of the reason for success, Mitchell said.

Moreover, every student in Cincinnati Public Schools will be offered free breakfast this year for the first time, said Jessica Shelley, food services director for the system.

“There are so many studies that show that students pay attention better in class, there is a lower rate of absentees and fewer visits to the school nurse when they have breakfast, Shelley told BlackAmericaWeb.com.

Since 2005, free breakfast was only offered at some of the schools. Last year, about 13,000 to 15,000 students ate a free breakfast at school. With the expansion of the program, Shelley said she hopes at least 20,000 students will eat breakfast at school each day.

“We looked at it and said, ‘How can we not do this?’” Shelley said. “This is about improving student achievement.”

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