SAN ANTONIO — It’s not uncommon for Lupita Cabrera to take her young sons to the zoo, but it was different knowing that a trip in mid-July would be the last time they’d go before school starts.

"We were surprised to say the least," Cabrera said when she and her husband got word from the school district that the first day of school would be July 23.

Cabrera's sons, Albert and Edwardo, are attending kindergarten and pre-k at the Menchaca Early Childhood Center in San Antonio this school year. The Southside ISD school applied for and received an Additional School Days Year Grant through the Texas Education Agency. Only six districts in the state were awarded the honor, which meant starting the school year 30 days early.

Menchaca ECC Principal Rebecca Herrera says it creates an exciting new way for her teachers to give their students a leg up and cover some things they usually wouldn't have time for, or that the kids may have forgotten during the regular summer break.

“It gives us the opportunity to revamp what teaching looks like," Herrera said. "What is age appropriate?  How does the instruction look for these kids, and how does learning become fun?”

For a district that is home to a majority of families living at or below the poverty level, Herrera says it helps create a more level playing field.

“It’s huge, because we want to give kids in the Southside area as many opportunities as anybody else in different districts or wealthier districts," she said.

The program may be here to stay, and potentially expand across the state.

“It’s something the state is looking at, so everything that we’re going to be doing throughout the year, we’re going to be documenting.  They’ll look at our data to see the growth the students had," Herrera said.

Money and lawmakers could be the deciding factor. The grant Menchaca ECC received pays teachers and faculty an additional 30 days on top of their salary, and goes to help fund other expenses such as food and additional supplies. A full, statewide roll out would likely require a similar monetary commitment.

For the Cabrera’s, the early start is a blessing, allowing Lupita to get back to work a month early. That's important after leaving her job and home schooling Albert during the pandemic.

"Two more paychecks, maybe," Cabrera said.

The first day of school came and went, and there were a few tears. But by the time Lupita had said goodbye to the boys and made her way out to the parking lot, a smile came across her face, as well as a realization of what she could finally do.

"I can go home and take a nap, and feel okay about it," she said.