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Why Does the School Day End Two Hours Before the Workday?

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This past March, on a Thursday morning before dawn, more than 70 bleary-eyed parents lined up in front of the Parks and Recreation building in South Windsor, Connecticut. Wrapped in heavy coats and clutching Dunkin’ Donuts cups, many of them slouched against the building’s cement walls, while others, exercising a tad more foresight, lounged in foldable camping chairs. Most had arrived around 3 in the morning. The first in line had been there since 11:30 p.m. the night before.

The scene closely resembled the crowds that gather before the release of a new iPhone or outside the box office for Hamilton tickets, but the reward for waiting wasn’t anywhere near as flashy. The parents had lined up for the chance to register their kids for a before- and after-school program sponsored by the town. The 4th “R,”—a play on the old-fashioned saying “reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic,” with the added “recreation”—serves elementary-school students whose parents’ work schedules don’t align with the school day’s 8:45 a.m. start and 3:20 p.m. finish. And braving the cold to stand in line didn’t even guarantee the parents a spot for their kids—the program had filled up earlier that week, thanks to a rule that prioritized siblings of current attendees. When the office opened its doors and began accepting registration requests at 8 a.m., many of the parents knew they’d endured the line simply to put their child on the wait list.

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Photo by Steven Gottlieb / Corbis / Getty

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