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New Bell Schedule, Free Meals: Lots of Changes Coming to APS this Fall

Posted July 21, 2023, 2:55 PM. Updated July 24, 2023, 3:51 PM.

Students begin school year on Aug. 3.

Students and families will be dealing with a host of changes when the new school year kicks off on Aug. 3 – everything from an earlier start and new bell schedules to longer school days for elementary students and free meals for all students.

The changes are aimed at helping students succeed in the classroom. Some were driven by the state, while others were recommended by Albuquerque Public Schools committees.

Here is a look at those changes.

School calendar

The APS Board of Education approved a calendar in April that adds four instructional days and has students returning to class on Thursday, Aug. 3, a week earlier than last school year. Teachers and school staff will return on Monday, July 31.

The main difference between the traditional and the Transformational Opportunity Pilot Schools, or TOPs, calendar is the end date. Students on the traditional calendar will wrap up their school year on May 31, 2024. Students attending one of the 21 TOPs schools will remain in class until June 10, 2024.

The calendar satisfies the 1,140 instructional hours per school year requirement passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor earlier this year. Under the new calendar, summer and fall breaks will be shorter. Students will, however, have longer winter and spring breaks. The extended breaks are aimed at addressing mental fatigue. Holidays and breaks in the traditional and TOPs calendars are the same.

APS also added seven full professional development days to the calendar for most K-8 teachers.

Longer days for elementary students

Under the previous schedule, most elementary students were at school for a total of six hours and 10 minutes. Under the new schedule, elementary students will have an additional 50 minutes of instructional time each day.

The decision to extend the school day for elementary students is the result of the new state law that increased the amount of required instructional time for all students.

APS elementary students were impacted the most because their minimum instructional hours went from 990 per school year to 1,140. The only other option would have been to add more days to the school calendar, which many families said they did not support. Given that feedback, APS limited the number of new instructional days to four.

New bell schedule

APS schools will have a new bell schedule this fall. Generally, the new schedule has later start and end times for all high school and most middle school students, but the move will mean earlier days at elementary schools.

APS high school students previously started class at around 7:25 a.m., although some schools had a Zero Hour period at 6 a.m.

Under the new bell schedule:

  • High schools will begin at 8:40 a.m. and end at 3:40 p.m. Athletics practices and games will still take place after school, as will other extracurricular activities.

  • Most middle schools will start at 9:15 a.m. and release students at 4:15 p.m. (They previously began at around 8:15 a.m. and ended class just after 3 p.m.)

  • Most elementary schools will operate under two bell schedules. Some will begin at 7:30 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m. Other elementary students will begin at 8:05 a.m. and end at 3:05 p.m. (Elementary schools previously had a range of start and end times with the earliest ones beginning at around 7:45 a.m. and ending just before 2 p.m. and other schools starting after 9 a.m. and ending just before 4 p.m.)

A joint APS/Albuquerque Teachers Federation task force had been studying best practices for high schools since last fall and recommended the change for the 2023-2024 school year. APS administrators signed off on the new bell schedule in April.

Free meals

Finally, all APS students will receive free meals this year, regardless of their family’s income. State lawmakers and the governor signed off on Senate Bill 4 earlier this year, which requires public schools to provide healthy breakfasts and lunches to students at no charge.

And while all New Mexico students will get free meals, the state Public Education Department is nevertheless urging families throughout the state to fill out the free and reduced lunch application. PED says filling out the form ensures children will receive maximum funding for benefits like Summer EBT. An accurate count of qualifying students is also used to determine funding for such things as after-school programs, technology, and quality internet.