A key part of innovation is being first and Manual High School students are leading the pack -- they rose Monday morning to begin Denver Public Schools longest school year in an effort to continue closing the achievement gap and give students more time with teachers.

Manual was the first DPS school to acquire innovation status as part of a 2008 act that gives the school more flexibility from district requirements in an effort to get schools to think outside the box. There are now 33 schools operating in the act's innovation zone.

In addition to adding an extra 39 days to its calendar, Manual Director of Community Engagement Vernon Jones said the school is adding another hour to their daily schedule by having the new school hours run from 7:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.

According to Jones, 25 days of the now 210-day school year will be dedicated to off-campus "experiential learning" -- at no additional cost to families.

Jones told the Denver Post last year that the school is still trying to raise funding for those trips because "money shouldn't be an obstacle" to families.

"Manual has seen solid growth since reopening, and that must be attributed to the commitment and hard work of our students, their families, our staff, and a very supportive community," Manual's new principal Brian Dale said in a statement.

The school is no stranger to adapting to bold changes to bolster student growth. In 2006 Manual was shut down for a year due to poor test scores and dropping enrollment, but since it's reopening, graduated 89 percent of its "first" senior class.

"All students deserve a great school that is willing to courageously confront the challenges that impede their success in college, career, and life. That is who Manual is," Jones said.

Jones says that although the school is not air-conditioned, it has been piloting a cooling system to make sure the environment will be comfortable for staff and students through the July and August months. According to a report last year by 9News, each room will be equipped with an industrial cooling unit and teachers will be compensated with a 25 percent pay raise to work the longer school year.

The school's new "experiential learning" program that will help fill in the summer curriculum is designed to be grade-specific. Jones elaborates:

Example of a possible experiential learning unit for a Manual 10th grader: Students spend 10 weeks in a course studying the civil rights movement. At the end of the 10 weeks they will have an experiential week in the South that takes them to some of the places, allows students and teachers to meet some of the people, and to live what they’ve learned in the classroom for the last 10 weeks.

Manual's elongated school year will have no impact on the DPS budget, according to Jones, since the new model will be sustained by grants and philanthropic partners.

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