Leveraging the Fifth Day for Learning in Rural Colorado Communities

January 31, 2017 by Tony Lewis

For the last year, our team at the Donnell-Kay Foundation has been exploring the implications of the four-day school week in rural Colorado. In June, we spent time in Lamar to experience the current reality of the four-day school week and were inspired by what we learned there and the people we met. We couldn’t help but feel there was strong potential for innovation on an “extra” fifth day when kids are not in school. And we felt this potential opportunity for learning, whatever it may look like, would be best shaped by the communities themselves – more specifically, by a person or group of people deeply in tune with the assets and aspirations of kids and families. Perhaps a learner themselves.

A few months ago, we were thrilled to learn that our interest in exploring this fifth day was shared by our friends at the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation in Idaho. Together, we are embarking on a collaborative effort aimed at expanding innovative fifth day learning opportunities across rural Colorado and Idaho.

The Donnell-Kay Foundation is currently accepting proposals from Colorado communities with a four-day school week who are excited to think differently about leveraging their fifth day for student learning that is meaningful, relevant, and community-driven. Rural communities can vary widely depending on their population size and location, and we want to emphasize that we’re as interested in small, isolated communities as we are in larger rural communities.

The Phase I application can be found here and is due by February 21, 2017 (full timeline below). For Phase I, we are simply looking for people with an idea they are excited to develop more deeply during a three-month design process. After this three-month design process, interested teams will have the opportunity to participate in Phase II by submitting a proposal for grant funding to implement and prototype their idea. Click here for more detailed information about the opportunity.

The Current Context

In the 2016-17 school year, 88 of Colorado’s 178 school districts operate on a four-day school week (4DSW). The vast majority of these 88 districts are considered “rural” (serving 6,500 students or fewer) or “small rural” (fewer than 1,000 students), with the largest concentration in southeastern Colorado.

Today, in the midst of a human capital crisis in so many rural schools, districts use 4DSW as a recruitment and retention strategy for teachers and leaders. Based on a 2011 report by the Colorado Department of Education, there seems to be no significant discrepancy overall in student academic outcomes between districts with a four-day school week and districts with a traditional five-day school week serving a similar population. Research shows that cost savings are relatively hard to achieve. After adopting the 4DSW, very few districts have returned to the five-day school week.

Although some districts and other organizations provide athletic and extracurricular programming on the fifth day, these opportunities are often not comprehensive or consistent enough to serve learners of all ages with varying interests and circumstances. We have seen communities innovate and find creative ways to provide opportunities that help students on the fifth day, and we want to help pave the way for more creative solutions.

We believe rural communities come with people and resources that can be arranged around the unique needs of their learners, drawing from various existing assets and expertise and through the pursuit of thoughtful partnerships.

Pilot Program Requirements

Interested teams must propose a learning experience that…

  • Takes place in a community with an existing four-day school week.
  • Occurs on the out-of-school day.
  • Serves learners between ages 5-18.
  • Will be ready to implement at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year.
  • Is relevant to and driven by the community, including its learners.
  • Expands access to disadvantaged students, increases rigor, creates an opportunity for character development, and/or contributes to a career pathway.
  • Is financially sustainable by year three of implementation.


  • Call for applications released on February 1, 2017
  • Webinar for interested applicants on February 14, 2017
  • Phase I application must be submitted online by February 21, 2017
  • Phase I Design Participants announced on February 27, 2017
  • Phase I design process runs from March through May, 2017
  • Phase II applications for implementation funding due by June 1, 2017
  • Phase II Grant Recipients announced on June 8, 2017
  • Phase II prototypes begin by September 1, 2017


View our 15-minute webinar or email 4DSW@dkfoundation.org.

Contact Tony