A group of Medford moms won't let the shrinking school budget prevent their kids from learning on Mondays.

A group of Medford moms won't let the shrinking school budget prevent their kids from learning on Mondays.

When parents learned that their children would have 14 Mondays off during the coming school year because of budget cuts, they began searching for ways to teach them on the days the schools were closed.

The Medford School Board announced in June that five school days would be cut in order to save the district about $1 million during the school year in salaries, transportation and utility expenses. Early release days would be substituted for professional development and school improvement days, which also fall on Mondays.

Tracey Parks, a stay-at-home mom with four kids in school and one at home, came up with a plan after she and other parents began discussing ways to combine efforts to introduce new subjects to their children on the Mondays off.

Parks said she e-mailed parents in her circle of friends and heard back from "tons of enthusiastic moms," and more than 20 parents volunteered to teach about fields connected to their interest or profession on Mondays.

"There's people bringing to the table different talents and abilities," Parks said.

One mother, an interior designer, offered to teach art and design as well as public speaking — "something kids learn very little about in school," Parks said.

So far, 50 students from first through eighth grade are involved in Parks' "homeschool co-op."

"It could have been a lot bigger, but it would have been a lot harder to organize," she said.

On four of the Mondays, Parks said parents are considering field trips to a geological museum, a ranch and maybe Willamette Egg Farms near Eagle Point. On four other Mondays, groups of about 10 students will do activities including geography through music; math in the kitchen; volleyball; first aid, as taught by a former nurse practitioner; dance and drama.

On the six remaining free Mondays, students will visit different homes and learn about creative writing, story problems and important figures in history.

"I think there are a lot of benefits for what the kids can get out of this that they're lacking at the schools," Parks said.

"It's better, I think, than watching TV or playing video games 'cause those are the days that other children in the nation are in school," she said "I feel pretty good that they are just doing something on the days that they're not in school."

Mary Patridge, who has children in second and fourth grade at Hoover Elementary School, said she is hoping to join the co-op for field trips, but she will be using the free Mondays to work with her kids on science experiments, workbooks and other homeschool techniques to battle "brain drain."

"I am so fortunate to be surrounded by moms who are concerned about their kid's education," Patridge said.

Central Point parents have almost twice as many Mondays off. The Central Point School District will have four-day school weeks for the entire 2009-10 school year to help make up an expected $3.4 million revenue shortfall.

Denise Wentzel, whose daughter attends Jewett Elementary in Central Point, said she is considering using Mondays as an opportunity for her daughter to learn a second language. She is looking for parents who would want to share the cost of a Spanish or French teacher for a few hours on Mondays.

"I want her to continue learning a second language, and with her not doing anything on Mondays, it's better than a field trip because then I would have to drive," said Wentzel, who works at Providence Medford Medical Center.

"I think it's a great idea to pool resources together," said Susan Dippel, principal of Mae Richardson Elementary School in Central Point.

Dippel said other parents she has spoken with are planning to use Mondays for piano and dance lessons or orthodontist appointments.

Rich Miles, elementary director for the Medford school district, recommended parents make sure their young children are supervised during their free time and encouraged them to use the time to pursue opportunities for learning and reading.

The school year begins Sept. 8 and ends June 11. In all, Medford students will have 18 five-day weeks and 16 four-day weeks during the school year, plus two three-day weeks in November. Thanksgiving break is Nov. 26 and 27, and winter break will be Dec. 21 through Jan. 4. Spring break is set for March 22 through 29.

Reach intern Teresa Thomas at intern1@mailtribune.com or 776-4464.