Sunnycrest succeeding with year-round schooling

By Elizabeth Ciepiela

Staff Writer

Sunnycrest is the only elementary school in the Federal Way school district with a year-round school calendar that is succeeding with parents, teachers, students and standardized tests. Students at the school attend class throughout the year, with a four-week break in August.

“I just love the calendar. I have never felt so energized continuously,” said Trese Graddon, a third-grade teacher.

Graddon has taught at a school with a traditional academic calendar before and she said it takes kids about four to six weeks to get back into the rhythm of learning after an 11-week summer vacation. Studies show that students lose knowledge during traditional long summer breaks, and it takes time to re-learn concepts.

In contrast, Sunnycrest students need only about a week to get used to studying again, Graddon said.

The school year at Sunnycrest is spaced with regular intervals. Students attend school six weeks on and two weeks off. November, February and May are the months when students take two-week breaks. Students also get a 10-day holiday in December.

Ann Nicoteri, a second-grade teacher who has taught at Sunnycrest since 1990, said she supports the year-round “because the kids keep learning all year long.”

She added one of the strongest subjects the school teaches is the reading program.

“We are teaching a 90-minute reading program each morning,” Nicoteri said. The program, called Success for All, emphasizes reading comprehension and reinforces reading skills.

Principal Mark Demick is a passionate advocate of the year-round calendar. He said the schedule and brief summer vacation help students retain knowledge.

“This ultimately lessens their summer learning loss. Research clearly points out that low socio-economic children lose three months and reading instruction over a typical summer break,” Demick said.

About 61 percent of students at Sunnycrest qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch program.

Demick said that in the standardized Iowa Test of Basic Skills, students’ scores in reading and math at the third and sixth-grade levels have steadily increased over the past five years.

“So far this year we have set new records at the third- and sixth-grade level and we are still waiting for fourth-grade WASL results,” he said.

Students also like the year-round school calendar — and being in class in late July doesn’t seem to bother them.

“I love it here. It’s fun,” said Rebecca Rivero, a sixth-grader who has attended Sunnycrest since first grade.

“I like getting the two weeks off every six weeks,” she added.

Kyle Wilburn, a fifth-grader who has attended the school since kindergarten, also likes the year-round program. He said the teachers are “really nice” and Demick is a fun guy.

Both students enjoy the reading comprehension emphasis of the school, which has a reading rewards program in which students can earn points throughout the school year.

One of the rewards Demick promised was if they earned 24,001 points, he would sit on the school roof in a chicken suit for a day. The students earned about 22,000 points.

Cathy Diemel, Rebecca’s mom and a reading tutor at the school, said that two weeks off versus two-and-a-half months makes it “easier to get kids back on task. They tend to move fluently in their education with a year-round school.”

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565,

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