Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Blog 3: Strengthening ELO Activities into the Weekend

Blog Series - Innovations in 
Expanded Learning Opportunities: 
The Community Schools Strategy
Trisila Tirado, Community School Director, and
Nuchette Burke, Community School Director, 
Hartford Community Schools 

 “Going to school on the weekend?!” Few adults could imagine kids wanting to go to school on the weekends but at select community schools in Hartford, our students and their families are doing just that.

Core to our community school work in Hartford is supporting student learning, even during the weekend. Weekend activities are very different from the more common afterschool or even summer activities. Weekend activities tend to be more targeted for students who need additional support. Together with our partners we offer supports as needed or when there is a unique opportunity to do something special for our school community. And at different points of the year we gear up for more consistent weekend programming, especially in preparation for the spring state assessment.

Community schools in Hartford emerged as a result of a partnership between the Hartford Public Schools, the City of Hartford, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, and the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut Hartford. They have organized seven community schools with plans to add more. Each school partners with a lead community-based agency that works to involve families and other partners. Since 2008, Hartford Community Schools has increased test scores by twice the district's average increase over the same time period – all in one of the poorest major metropolitan cities in the country.

How are Decisions Made about Weekend Opportunities?

Each community school has its own school governance council that makes decisions about whether to offer weekend opportunities. The council is made up of the principal, teachers, community school directors (coordinators), parents, and partners.

At both of our schools, Alfred E. Burr Elementary School (a PreK-8 school) and Jumoke Academy Honors at Milner (a PreK-8 school), our school governance councils decided that our students needed more time to prepare for the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT). We created Saturday programming that helped our students prepare for the CMT and enrichment opportunities that helped them deepen their interest in learning and help make school meaningful, relevant, and fun.

What does Weekend Programming Look Like?

Weekend opportunities look different at each of our community schools depending on the needs of the school and our partners.

Family Urban School of Excellence (FUSE – a charter management organization) was contracted by the Hartford Public Schools during the 2012-2013 school year to bring its education model, including Saturday Academies to Milner, an existing community school. In addition to the supporting academics, the Community School Director collaborates with community partners to provide enrichment opportunities, classes for parents/families, and fun activities for students. Some of these weekend opportunities include cultural enrichment, such as drumming/drill (sponsored by partners Art of Drill) and seminars for parents to learn how more about school process (sponsored by Hartford Parent University). About 80 students participated in the cultural enrichment activities.

Saturday Academy begins in October and runs through February to help students prepare for the CMT. Attending Saturday Academy is voluntary for students in grades 4 – 8, but all students are encouraged to attend. The day begins at 8:15 AM with breakfast provided by Hartford Public Schools. Students are in a classroom setting until 12:00 PM reviewing skills covered on the CMT and learning strategies to be successful during the test. While students are in the classroom, parents are invited to attend classes or workshops sponsored by the community school. This year the community school office partnered with Hartford Parent University (HPU) a community collaborative, to provide classes to our parents. HPU helps parents increase their ability to actively and effectively support their children's education and positively impact school improvement. It provides parents with an opportunity to become certified parent leaders. This month, 13 parents will graduate as certified parent leaders and will advocate in our school on behalf of all parents.

In addition to the classes offered to student and their parents during Saturday Academy there are enrichment classes for the students after the academic component is completed.  The Art of Drill, a community based drumming and drill team offers Saturday programming from 1:00 to 3:00 PM. This enrichment is elective and is not mandated for students that attend the Saturday Academy. Students also have an opportunity to participate in supervised open gym. 

At Burr, a CMT Boot camp, a regularly scheduled Saturday program that runs from November to March, is offered. The Boot Camp is an academic program that helps prepare students for the state mastery test through the use of hands-on activities, small group reading, and practicing fundamentals. This is staffed by the school's certified teachers, tutors, and special education staff. Some years, partners have offered parent programming and workshops while students attended the Boot Camp.

Burr provides space for partners to reach students during the weekends as needed. With the exception of the CMT Boot Camp, our Saturday programs are usually offered on an as-scheduled basis. For example, the Teen Outreach Program, which is a life skills program with a service learning component that serves grades 7 and 8, may have a weekend service learning project scheduled. Some of these projects include, park clean ups, Breast Cancer Awareness walk, the Walk Against Hunger, assisting in the food pantry and turkey distribution during the holidays. Other programs, such as the Truancy Court Prevention Project, who also serve 7th and 8th students, have participated in weekend team building activities throughout the year. Furthermore, there are scheduled field trip to college campuses to enjoy a basketball or baseball game or to simply enjoy a tour of the campus in support of the “Burr 2 College” initiative. Some of the colleges students visited are the University of Hartford, the University of Connecticut, and Central Connecticut State University.

Do Students Actually Participate in Weekend Opportunities?

Believe it or not, they do! Our weekend programs aren’t mandatory for our students. At Milner, approximately 150 students out of 218 students in grades 3 -8 attended Saturday Academy this school year (out of 375 students in the school). At Burr we have provided students with a variety of incentives, such as breakfast, lunch, and fun raffles of kid-friendly toys to help encourage students to continue to attend weekend program on a consistent basis. Nearly 150 3rd through 8th grade students have participated in the CMT Boot Camp (there are 218 students in grades 3-8). The Teen Outreach Program and its service learning projects has had close to 30 7th and 8th grade students volunteering in the community on weekends. The Truancy Court Prevention Project also schedules events and activities for up to 25 students on weekends.

Our community schools in Hartford are uniquely suited to provide academic support and enrichment opportunities during the weekend. Our community leaders, including Mayor Pedro Segarra, The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut, and the Hartford Public Schools, work together as the Hartford Partnership for Student Success HPSS to fund and support our community schools. Their leadership paves the way for us to create opportunities during the weekend and beyond that our students and families need to be successful. Mayor Segarra recently held a surprise weekend visit to Burr community schools to demonstrate his support of the students. He spent half of his Saturday touring our school and meeting with some of our students. He was sure to share kind words of encouragement and asked our students to continue making him proud. 

Hartford Community Schools received the 2013 National Awards for Excellence
as a Community School Initiative. Read more about Hartford here.

To learn more about community schools and ELO, visit 

The Wallace Foundation, which has sponsored this blog series, offers a library of free resources on expanded learning at

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  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I've been looking for a community school in Fort Myers, FL that offers good programs and opportunities for kids to grow. I'm actually surprised how many options there are.