HOPEWELL, Va. (WRIC) — Hopewell students and teachers are heading back to school sooner than they ever have. The district will become the first public locality in Virginia with what they call a “balanced calendar,” which is close to year-round school.

After just a five week summer break ends, the new school year will begin on July 26.

“Trying to get her to enjoy the little bit of summer days she has left,” said Sandie Kearney. Her daughter Elizabeth is going into 2nd grade this year after being at home learning virtually all of last year.

Byron Davis is leading the transition for the school district and called the upcoming school year “very exciting.”

“A lot of other people that are reaching out to us, other school systems, that want to learn how to do this and learn about it,” he said.

The balanced calendar is not necessarily year-round school. “The logical intuitive jump is to think that it’s non-stop and that’s really not the case. No one is required to attend school any more than they were before. They just have the opportunity to.” The district is essentially spreading the school year out more and offering more learning opprtunities to families. For most students, there will be 45 weekdays in class, a couple weeks of break, and repeat.

During those breaks, students have the option to enroll in what the district calls “intersession” classes, or activities, for free.

“We’ve just broken up the calendar so those free opportunities are placed throughout the year,” Davis said.

Kearney said there are big advantages to the balanced calendar. “It helps me out,” she said, “you know, it won’t be so hard trying to get daycare or pay extra for daycare over the summer.”

However, she said the year feels rushed. “It’s different than what we’re used to, way different,” she said. “So I wish we had a little bit more time to prepare.”

Students and teachers will also get a longer break in the summer, about five weeks, after the calendar year ends. Years of research, studies, discussion and pandemic delays happened before this moment. Davis said research shows a balanced calendar like this has been successful in other districts studied.

Hopewell decided to change routes for a few reasons. Davis said the new calendar will help ensure kids are physically and intellectually taken care of throughout the year while avoiding the so-called “summer slide.”

He also said longer periodic breaks will help prevent kids and school faculty from getting burnt out.

Families can find the balanced calendar informational website here. A copy of the 2021-2022 school calendar is located here. Click here for a digital catalogue of the “intersession” courses.

On Wednesday morning, leaders of the Hopewell organization Story, a nonprofit serving kids and families in Hopewell’s public housing communities, packed up 200 backpacks with supplies for families in the community near S. 8th street. Kathryn Thompson, the executive director, said the supplies came from American Water, Hopewell Redevelopment and Housing Authority, and the Junior League of Richmond.

The bags were handed to families from 4-6 p.m., where there was a hot dog stand, ice cream stand, and DJ.