Anne Arundel County public schools will launch a pilot program in the new school year giving some elementary school students instruction in specific themes, including global studies, arts and the humanities, and the use of science and technology in society.
Superintendent George Arlotto said Thursday each of the nine elementary schools that feed into North County High School will take part in the program, dubbed Triple E: Enhancing Elementary Excellence. It will begin Sept. 29, about a month after Monday's start of the school year.
Each of the schools will offer classes in one of four themes: science, technology, engineering and math in society; arts and humanities; global studies; and International Baccalaureate Primary Years — a program designed to help students develop intellectual and social skills to compete in global societies.
Officials said Triple E will give students additional study during the school day at a time when they would otherwise be engaged in activities such as working in a computer lab or on research projects. School board member Deborah Ritchie applauded the pilot program as a way to enhance elementary education.
"If we really want to close the achievement gap, we have to start with early education," she said.
The school system brought in 10 teachers specifically to teach the theme subjects — one each at eight of the schools and two at Hilltop Elementary in Ferndale, which has a large enrollment.
Arlotto took over as superintendent of Anne Arundel schools in July; he served previously as the school system's chief of staff.
"I've been around the past eight years and I know the discussion about changing the elementary schedule has been out there," he said, adding that he would expand the program to other schools as quickly as possible.
"We would hope to go to [all] elementary schools next year. Budget-wise, that's probably not going to happen, and that's OK," he said. "We will have to look at budgeting and staffing. There are lots of variables that will play into that."
Arlotto said teachers at the participating schools will receive more planning time. School officials said last year that each teacher was allocated 210 minutes of planning time per week; teachers in the pilot program will have as much as 300 minutes.
Richard Benfer, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, said he and Arlotto spoke earlier this month August about implementing the program. He said the collective bargaining agreement between the school system and teachers union won't be affected because the program allows for additional planning time.
"We have talked for years and years about the issue of planning time because it is crucial to the success of students," Benfer said. "Elementary teachers have been at a huge disadvantage compared to their middle school and high school counterparts, and this goes a long way toward fixing that."