CROSBY — First grader Noelani Henson loves Fridays. Especially this year.

Since the Crosby Independent School District decided to move to a four-day school week this year, in an effort to lure top teaching talent to the small district just east of Houston, Noelani spends Fridays soaking up extra quality time with her grandmother, Lavon Qureshi. 

It’s not that Noelani isn’t a fan of school. Yes, she says, kindergarten was tough at times. “But I love first grade,” she whispered to me last Monday night as we sat at the school district’s central office waiting for an awards ceremony to begin. Noelani, who’s known for affirming everyone she meets at school, was named Newport Elementary’s Student of the Month.

But extra time with her grandmother? It’s tough to beat that. (Especially since Grandma slips her a $10 bill for helping with chores like sweeping the floor and washing dishes.)

There was a lot of speculation earlier this year when Crosby ISD became the largest Texas school district to announce it would test the four-day-week waters for the 2023-2024 school year. 

I myself was sure parents would be adverse to the idea. Child care in Harris County, which is home to Crosby, is both hard to find and hard to afford. How would working parents balance the need to satisfy both their bosses and a new schedule?

I’ve spent months asking this question — both before the school year started, and now that the district has begun its four-day policy. And while I did find some parents with concerns, the vast majority of Crosby residents I spoke with have seen this new shift as an opportunity to allow their kids to breathe a little more deeply and relax. 

Community ties

The more I listen to Crosby residents, the more I realize that while this model might never work in a larger city like Houston, the small, largely middle class community of Crosby just east of the San Jacinto River is well-suited for such a switch. 

Across the U.S., on average, about 68 percent of families with children have two parents at home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But in Crosby, the rate is significantly higher, at 76.4 percent. And Crosby kids are also more likely to have one parent in the workforce while another stays home, according to Census data. This means many families are able to find flexibility under their own roofs. 

Crosby students leave school on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Crosby. (Joseph Bui for Houston Landing)

But here’s the thing about Crosby: families’ networks aren’t just isolated to one household. People who live in Crosby have deep roots, which means they’re more likely to have a grandparent in close proximity, like Noelani. Crosby residents — homeowners and renters alike — are also more likely to have stayed in their homes for a longer period of time than Americans as a whole. While 12.6 percent of Americans moved in the past year, the share is only 10.7 percent in Crosby, Census data shows. 

And among the Crosby folks who’ve switched homes, their moves were much more likely to be local: 82 percent of moves among Crosby residents were people moving within the same county; nationwide, the rate for these short-distance moves is only 57 percent. 

That means even those families who aren’t lucky enough to have a grandma on call are more likely to have close friends they can lean on. That’s the case for Destany Atkins, a nurse who works three 12-hour night shifts a week. Her daughter Hazel Atkins, who attends the Crosby Kindergarten Center, spends Friday’s with Destany’s close friend who has a more flexible schedule. 

“A lot of parents around here — especially from what I’ve seen from patients — a lot of them have at least one parent who is working shift work, or working for the plants,” Megan Bradley, a local dentist, told me back in July. One mom told me she was excited for the new schedule because three-day weekends will free up travel time that will make it easier for her children to see her husband, who spends much of his time working on an oil rig.

Creating new routines

“I was concerned with it,” says Kim Davila, a real estate agent who has children both at Crosby Middle School and Crosby High School. “But it’s been fine.”

She’s able to work from home, as is her husband, who works as a loan officer. There are still sports practices on Fridays that require some carpool wrangling, since none of the neighboring districts are on four-day weeks. But so far, Davila says, the chance to allow her kids to be kids for an extra day of the week has been pretty great. Her son Sloan Davila, a seventh grader, agrees. 

I wondered: Does Sloan have more homework on the weekend? Is he especially drained on Mondays through Thursdays due to the school days extending by 20 minutes to help make up for the instructional time lost on Fridays? 

“I don’t usually have homework,” he says. “We get most of our work done in school.”

Sounds great, honestly. But still, the switch has brought some added anxieties to parents across Crosby. Bradley notes that “it’s another night [the kids] stay up late, another night I still have to get up and go to work the next day.” 

Crosby ISD school buses line up at Crosby Middle School on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Crosby. (Joseph Bui for Houston Landing)

And for many families who don’t have a grandma or best friend in close proximity, it has meant an added expense. 

Larry Taylor, executive director of youth development for the YMCA of Greater Houston, spoke with me just before the start of Crosby’s school year on Aug. 7 (it was moved to earlier in the summer this year, to add back days lost due to the four-day week). The YMCA has always offered weekday after-school programs in Crosby, Taylor told me. This year, it launched a Friday program at Crosby Elementary School, which runs from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and can accommodate about 150 kids in need of Friday child care. The Y partnered with the Houston Food Bank to offer breakfast and lunch options for the kids in attendance. 

The program isn’t free, but Taylor said the Y is able to offer Crosby families a reduced rate for Friday care; it comes to about $75 a month. 

And Harris County opened similar programs at Crosby ISD’s Barrett Elementary School and Drew Elementary School, through the county’s Center for Afterschool, Summer and Enrichment for Kids (CASE for Kids). Kids who attend that program will have access to homework help and enrichment opportunities, CASE for Kids senior director Lisa Caruthers told me. 

All of these backstops, when stacked on top of each other, seem to have covered many of the gaps I’d expected to find in this plan. 

“I haven’t really heard any parents who are really and truly concerned about child care,” Bradley told me. “I think, if anything, it’s an inconvenience, it’s an extra expense.” 

But when she puts that extra cost into context, she’s OK with the trade-off: “I feel like I’m OK with it personally if the trade-off is happier teachers,” Bradley says. 

And what about happier kids?

I asked Noelani, the first grade student, if she likes her extra “Grandma Time” on Fridays, but she quickly corrected me. 

“It’s not Grandma Time, it’s Child Time,” she said. “And I like Child Time, because I get to do anything I want.”

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Maggie Gordon is a columnist who has worked at newspapers across the country, including the Stamford Advocate and the Houston Chronicle. She has covered everything from the hedge fund industry and education...