HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — School districts in two southern Mississippi counties will start classes at the end of July for the first time, allowing students to get additional academic help during longer breaks throughout the year.

The Hattiesburg American reports that Lamar County schools will start July 22 and Forrest County schools will start July 26 — about two weeks earlier than usual.

Brian Freeman, Forrest County’s superintendent, told the newspaper that a new schedule was considered for years and the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the district to make the change.

Both districts’ calendars will have two new, two-week breaks: Sept. 27-Oct. 8 and an extended spring break March 14-25. Breaks for Thanksgiving and Christmas will stay the same.

In Forrest County, students and teachers will be off the first week of the breaks. Students who are struggling will be able to get extra help with their schoolwork during the second week through one-on-one time with teachers, according to counselor and high school teacher Kris Arnold.

Lamar County students can get additional assistance the first week of the breaks. They’ll also be able to participate in enrichment activities involving art, music, STEM and other areas.

Teachers who decide to work during the new breaks will receive bonuses on top of their regular salaries.

Both districts surveyed parents and teachers to assess their feelings about new schedules before making the change. Freeman said a survey in the spring found that about 87% of Forrest County teachers and more than 60% of parents were in favor.

About 77% of nearly 1,100 Lamar County teachers and 63% of approximately 6,100 parents supported the updated school calendar in a survey sent out in November, according to school board member Jim Braswell.