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Pelican Rapids students adjust to four-day school week

Casey Kugler works Monday at the Park Region Co-op convenience store in Pelican Rapids during his first regular Monday off from school. The school moved to a four-day week starting last week, and Monday was the first day of the "Magnificent Mondays" all-day kids' club run by off-duty district teachers and staff. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

PELICAN RAPIDS, Minn. - Monday morning found students here in some uncommon locales for a school year weekday: working the register at the local Cenex station, checking their Facebook page at the library or sleeping in.

It was the first Monday without classes in the 920-student district, which switched to a four-day school week this fall in a bid to save about $100,000 in transportation and utilities. Many students and parents are still working out what the most apt way to spend Mondays without school might be. But most figured the new school schedule was something they could get used to.

At Viking Elementary Monday, students engaged in a bevy of activities, some of them smacking of standard school fare. There was reading practice, basketball in the gym and a group of third-graders acting out words like "fumble."

Sixth-grader Sara Smischny and fifth-grader Dillon Such were solving a math problem.

"It feels we are still at school, except with fewer kids," Sara said.

With a federal grant for after-school programs, the school is offering Magnificent Mondays, a day of enrichment activities. By Monday, 50 students were registered for the program, along with 15 for Teen Spot, a free program for older students at Cavalry Evangelical Free Church.

"I am really impressed with the registration right now," said Michelle Jameson, the grant director. "Once the word gets out, we'll get more."

Kris Thompson dropped by Monday to check out the program with her fourth-grader, Sara.

"At home, she would be bored on Mondays," Thompson said, adding the licensed teachers and the arts were a big draw. "It's a little too easy to sit around and watch TV."

Seniors Casey Kugler and Jordan Albright resisted the temptation to sleep in and sit around. They opened the Pelican Cenex station at 6 a.m.

"I'd rather be in here making money rather than sitting at home," said Casey, who planned to use the money from the extra eight hours he picked up to pay off his car.

Junior Brook Hatle was also keeping busy. To fulfill a community service requirement, she wiped down the doors of the public library, where some boys played computer games and checked Facebook.

Keeping wide-awake in first-period math class was a bit rough after getting up more than a half hour earlier, Hatle said. School now starts at 7:55 at the high school, where officials extended the school day by 65 minutes. Overall, though, "I like the four-day week," she said. "It's not that much longer of a day, yet you get a three-day weekend. I am pretty sure that's what all kids want."

Megan Gilbertson, another senior, slept in on Monday, "a nice trade-off" for having to get up earlier during the week. She was "just relaxing and taking it easy" on Monday morning. She still had volleyball practice and a game that night, though.

"Homework is going to be the hard part with sports," she said, though the district's Power Hour, a second study hall at the end of the day, would help.

That morning, Monica Kaiser's first- and fifth-grader headed to school in Detroit Lakes. She enrolled them there this school year; she had worried they would run out of steam before the end of the longer school day and struggle to get back in study mode after a three-day weekend.

"I hope it's a fruitful experiment," she said. "However, I don't think I'm up for an experiment at the cost of my kids' education."

School leaders say at most a handful of parents out-enrolled because of the switch. And, said Board Chairman Don Perrin, the first week went smoothly: "Students were tired, but they are normally tired when school starts."

Sara and Dillon are working on strategies to get going in the morning. Dillon tried putting his alarm clock on his pillow. Sara's mom threatened to sprinkle her with cold water, and it helped: "As soon as I hear the faucet going, I jump out of bed."