Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Blog 6: A Different School Year Calendar: Continuous Learning, Enrichment, and Support when Extended Year Schools are on Break

Blog Series - Innovations in 
Expanded Learning Opportunities: 
The Community Schools Strategy

A Different School Year Calendar: 
Continuous Learning, Enrichment, and Support when Extended Year Schools are on Break

By:
Amy Putman, Former Coordinator and Current Principal, Marshall Elementary School;
Sheri Carpenter, Coordinator, Mark Twain Elementary School;
Jan Creveling, Tulsa Area Community Schools Initiative










Who wins when Tulsa’s community schools add four extra weeks of instruction and enrichment?

·         Students are safe and secure while building trusting relationships with caring adults six hours a day.
·         Families know their children are being provided free academic and enrichment opportunities as well as breakfast and nutritious snacks.
·         Schools are utilized and teachers have increased opportunity to plan, regroup, supplement curriculum, and participate in professional development.
·         Community wins with students actively engaged in positive programming which develops mind, body and spirit around the strategy of success.

Community schools in Tulsa are working with their partners to continue to provide expanded learning opportunities to students enrolled in year-round schools, even during intersessions.

The Tulsa Area Community Schools Initiative (TACSI)
The Tulsa Area Community Schools Initiative (TACSI) supports 26 community schools across the Union and Tulsa Public School Districts. The initiative enjoys strong support by both superintendents and the Community Service Council of Greater Tulsa (CSC) serves as the intermediary.

Year-Round Schools
Currently, six of the Tulsa Public School District’s schools have chosen to operate on a year-round calendar. These low-income schools are known as “continuous learning calendar schools” (CLCs). All of them are also community schools. CLCs don’t add days to the school year – students attend the same number of days in CLCs as schools operating on the traditional calendar. Instead, they create longer breaks, or “intersessions.” Students start school earlier in fall, have a 2-week intersession around the end of October, and a 2-week intersession around March. Like the traditional calendar schools, they maintain holiday breaks in December and March.

Parent and teacher support is critical to becoming a CLC. New schools who want to become a year-round school take a year to work with families and educators to garner support, strategize, and develop a comprehensive plan. The Tulsa School Board is responsible for approving the school’s change to their calendar.

Even Year-Round Schools Have Breaks: Creating Enriching Opportunities during Intersessions
While the CLC calendar shortens the time during summer when students are out of school by about 4 weeks, this creates other opportunities during the extended school year for the school and its partners to create a continuum of learning and support. All TACSI CLC students, pre-K through 6th grade, are invited to participate in the two-week intersessions right at their school. While there is a limit on the number of students that can be served, typically all students who want to participate in this voluntary experience have the opportunity to do so. For example, during the fall 2012 intersession, an average of 25% of students across the CLCs participated with a low of 10% and a high of 44% of all school-age children.

Community school coordinators, who know the families and what each student needs, reach out to the students who require extra support and their parents at the beginning of the school year. While there is capacity to include all the schools’ enrolled students in intersessions, coordinators report that one-half to three-quarters of students participate in either intersession, and some participate in both.

Staffing Intersessions
School staff, the community school coordinator, and partners all help staff the CLCs. All educators in a CLC school choose to staff one out of the four intersession weeks. They aren’t contractually obligated to do so, but the educators choose to assist because they share the school and community’s mission of enhancing their students’ education.  Staff is compensated for instruction through Title I funding at $23 an hour for certified instruction with a class size of no more than 15 students, a much lower student-to-teacher ratio then what’s possible during the school year. Sometimes, to mix things up, teachers will teach different grade levels than they are assigned during the year. This option reflects the intentional strategy do things differently during intersessions, rather than extending more of the same.

The community school coordinator is central to staffing the intersessions and works collaboratively with the other educators in the building to staff the intersessions and identify the resources children and families continue to need. Truly a part of the team culture in a community school, the coordinator plays an increased role during intersessions.

And the TASCI partners continue to support students during intersessions as well. They maintain their regular activities such as mentoring (lunch buddies and mentors like to come during this time because it is more relaxed) and they also use the time to provide special opportunities for students. For example, partners will bring in special guests (fishing instructors, career professionals, artists) that enhance the intersession curriculum, or they volunteer to help with projects that are more manageable during that time (cooking with the whole class, planting projects, and science experiments). Partners like the CORE Center, a junior high school service learning group, also offer special events such as “trunk or treat,” Easter egg hunts, and more. These events are open to all students but are especially promoted among intersession families. One partner, Redeemer Covenant Church, sends volunteers to support intersession staffing needs, special projects, and mentoring. Another partner, Green Country Shredding, contributes funding for family events such as parent celebrations. Partners are critical to creating opportunities during intersessions.

Opportunities for Creative Use of Time
Intersessions enable us and our partners to be creative with our time. Our primary focus is on student learning that is more integrated, meaningful, and personalized. Each intersession day begins with a school-wide theme which gives staff and students creative implementation of core instruction for intervention in reading, math and writing over a three to four hour period. For example, staff have used the science and social studies curricula to create themes such as “All about Oklahoma,” “Scientists of Mark Twain,” and “History All Around Us.”

In some schools, community partners then provide two to three hours of enrichment using the same thematic approach in a camp-like atmosphere that keeps students engaged in their learning. This gives partners opportunities to work with students on science experiments, art and music exploration, and history trips.

Continuity of Support
The community school approach that includes partner-provided student and family supports during the typical school year doesn’t stop during intersession. In all of the schools, there is a continuity of support for students and their families. The schools remain open to all and partners continue to offer their programs to all students, even those not enrolled in the intersession. For example, the bike club and global gardens partners each maintain their activities at 3:30 PM, just as they would during the conventional school day. Mentor partners keep working with their students during the intersession. The school-based clinic in one of the TACSI CLC schools remains open. Students continue to receive backpacks filled with food from the food bank every Friday – something they couldn’t do if the school wasn’t open during intersessions and if the school wasn’t a community school – the library’s mobile van continues to be available, and activities that bring neighbors into the school – such as yoga and movie nights – continue as well.

Benefits
Intersessions provide families in extended year schools a badly needed resource: they eliminate the family costs for care and supervision so parents may continue working. We also provide additional opportunities for family engagement during intersession. Some schools offer “Parent University” (based on The Mind in the Making curriculum) and Learning Cubs (a program for 1-4 year old siblings that works with parents to get them ready for PK). There’s also a parent celebration night, where students can display and show their parents what was learned and/or created during the intersessions. In the past this has included a musical performance, a history remake, rooms with hands on experiments for the families to do, and outdoor activities. Students take ownership over their learning; they run the stations and the teachers supervise. Parents enjoy it and are proud to see their kids in a position of leadership.

While we haven’t conducted a formal evaluation to assess the impact of the intersessions on student learning yet, teachers and coordinators have told us anecdotally that the intersessions are targeting the kids who need the most support and are helping them succeed. We are currently collecting data to examine the impact of intersessions.

As Tulsa Public Schools considers implementing an extended school year district-wide, TACSI community schools and our great partners will be ready to ensure that the strategy is well implemented and provides meaningful and effective engaging academic and developmental opportunities for our children and their families.


You can read more about TACSI here and here.


To learn more about community schools and ELO, visit www.communityschools.org/elo 

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


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