The Napa Valleys newest high school, American Canyon High, has eliminated the tradition of a mid-morning break when students can snack and chat for a few brief minutes.

By voting to eliminate their break, teachers at American Canyon High School have added the equivalent of six instructional days to the school year.

Teachers and students throughout the Napa Valley Unified School District receive a 10-minute break as part of the collective bargaining agreement between the teachers union and the school district.

Principal Mark Brewer said he was initially shocked that a 10-minute break was allowed between second and third period when he arrived at the school three years ago. I asked them to get rid of it, he said.

Before moving to Napa in 2009, Brewer worked as an assistant principal in Colorado. He said mid-morning breaks dont exist in most school districts there.

Teachers at American Canyon voted in favor of Brewers proposal, and agreed to alter their collective bargaining agreement.

While eliminating the break worked for American Canyon, other high schools find it beneficial to have the extra 10 minutes, according to the Napa Valley Educators Association, the teachers union.

At Napa High School, more than 40 percent of its 2,000 students receive free or reduced-price lunch. The 10-minute milk break as it is called is an opportunity for many kids to eat breakfast or grab a snack, school officials say.

We need to feed our kids, Napa High Principal Barbara Franco said.

During the break, Franco and other administrators monitor students so teachers are able to use the restroom or remain in their classrooms to complete extra work.

Napa Highs cafeteria manager, Mercedes Navarro, said about 300 students per day use the break to buy food. The high school offers everything from burritos and bagels to fresh fruit and milk for students to snack on between classes. To reduce cafeteria congestion, two food carts are stationed outside the dining hall.

We have to work fast, Navarro said.

Teachers at American Canyon initially opposed eliminating the break based on their concern that students wouldnt have the opportunity to purchase a mid-morning snack, said Andrew Goff, the teachers union site representative at American Canyon. Many students there also come to school without having breakfast, he said.

To address the needs of students, American Canyon developed a breakfast program. Breakfast is now served on campus for about 30 minutes before the start of school. About 65 kids currently participate, but Brewer said he hopes to grow that number to more than 100. Approximately 1,400 students attend American Canyon High School.

Franco said Napa High also serves breakfast, but most kids come to school right before class starts and dont arrive earlier to eat.

The mid-morning break also is helpful to teachers who have fewer prep periods, school officials said.

Napa and Vintage high schools operate on six-period days, which includes only one prep period for teachers, said Linda Hansen, president of the Napa Valley Educators Association.

The mid-morning break was less of a necessity at American Canyon because the high school operates on a seven-period day, Goff said. Included in that day are two prep periods for teachers, which are periods when teachers have the time to grade papers, create lesson plans or attend staff meetings.

Without enough prep time, many teachers end up spending an average of two to three hours outside of the school day to catch up on work, Hansen said. Most teachers work nine- or 10-hour days, even though theyre only paid for seven, she said.

You come into teaching for the love of it, not the time you have to put in, Hansen said.

Neither Hansen nor Goff knew how long the 10-minute break has been included in teachers contracts, but neither could remember a time without it. Goff has taught in the district for 18 years, and he said the break has always been a part of the collective bargaining agreement.

Both Brewer and Goff described the break as a disruption to the normal flow of the school day, and Goff said eliminating the break has greatly reduced the number of tardies in third period.

Students would return from break in more of a social mindset, and the transition back to the academic thought process would result in the loss of more instructional time in the period that followed the morning break, Goff wrote in an email.

Franco said the break has not been viewed as a disruption at Napa High.

Ive never experienced any feedback from teachers that kids cant settle down after break, she said. Different schedules work for different school communities.

While eliminating the break adds a few extra minutes to each class period, it does not add actual days to the school year. American Canyon still has the same number of teaching days as Napa and Vintage.

Goff said, however, that adding the equivalent of six instructional days is huge for students, and cited this years senior class as an example.

Over the past five years these students have lost over 15 days of their education due to budget cuts, he said.

The Napa Valley Unified School District currently has 175 days in the school year. Before cuts were made in 2010-11, the school year had 180 days. Goff said most industrialized countries have up to 220 school days per year.

From an educators perspective, we should do everything we can to increase educational days, Goff said. The removal of our 10-minute morning break seems like a small price to pay for the increase in instructional minutes. But that is just one educators opinion.

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