By Hugo Lawton, Intern for the Coalition for Community Schools
American students attend school for less time than most students around the world. Shorter days and longer summers should allow for these students to participate in experiential learning opportunities and experiment with new interests through hands-on activities, which many schools do not have the time to include in the traditional school day. The reality of how this time is spent, however, is quite disturbing. The average student spends 6.5 hours each day in school, and 7.5 hours online browsing websites like Facebook and YouTube (The After-School Corporation). When comparing students of different income levels, the reality is even more disturbing. In fact, according to the After-School Corporation (TASC), a student at age twelve in the lowest income bracket will have had 6,000 hours and $90,684 fewer educational experiences than his or her classmate in the highest income bracket. This immense learning gap is a result of fewer family-initiated learning experiences and lack of preschool, extra-curricular activities, and/or summer camps. All of the learning experiences we expect our children to receive after school and in the summer are not available or affordable for the students who need them most: those living in the highest needs neighborhoods.
Expanded Learning Time (ELT) schools do not just lengthen the school day; they completely redesign the way that the school schedule is organized. The Coalition for Community Schools’ recent Expanded Learning Opportunities report and typology defines “expanded learning opportunities as multidimensional and involving enriched learning experiences, school-community partnerships, and productive use of time.” ELT is among the many time periods used to expand learning for students in partnership with community partners. Many schools are expanding the school day by including activities often thought of as extra-curricular, as well as internships, hands-on science experiments, and group projects. The infographic and report by the Center for American Progress on Expanded Learning Time schools illustrates that not only do ELT schools give students a broader range of experiences, but they also give teachers more time to collaborate with one another and to develop effective lesson plans. The ability for teachers to spend more time planning is largely due to the partnerships that ELT schools engage with the community. Local businesses host students for internships, and professionals from other fields come and engage students in their area of expertise. Not only does this provide a variety of perspectives to which students can be exposed, but also offers a way for the school’s community to become more involved with its students in meaningful ways.
Two organizations have forged the path for future Expanded Learning Time schools: Citizen Schools and the After-School Corporation, both partners of the Coalition for Community Schools. Both organizations began as an optional after-school program, providing apprenticeship opportunities for youth. They found the students who signed up for their programs were benefiting in significant ways, but that the schools that those students attended were not doing any better than before they arrived. The students who were not participating in these after-school programs were the ones who needed the programs the most, but were unable to participate due to transportation issues or other limitations. After these organizations recognized that the entire school must be involved in these programs in order to eliminate the opportunity gap, they worked to develop in-school programs that would increase the school day by 33%, on average, in order to accommodate this important aspect of learning. By requiring that students stay for the extra time, transportation systems can adjust to accommodate the new students’ schedules, and the students who need the programs most are able to take advantage of them.
In a time when the government’s budget is tight and programs are being cut around the country, funding is a significant concern for these ELT schools. Citizen Schools estimates that its programs cost around $1200-1800 per student in its pilot program, drawing funding from over thirty different sources. The keys, according to Eric Schwarz (co-founder of Citizen Schools), are the strong partnerships with the community in the form of funding and volunteers, as well as a restructuring of the school’s and district’s budgets to allow for the extended time. Whether this system is sustainable at a national level is still in question, but the current ELT schools’ methods of funding and community involvement are working because of their local support within the community. One of these schools is Orchard Gardens, a community school, located in Boston Massachusetts.
Not long after the school’s opening, Orchard Gardens’ K-8 students were consistently scoring at the bottom of Massachusetts schools’ rankings. Two years after the school became an Extended Learning Time school, Orchard Gardens ranked in the top one percent in math, and top six percent in English and language arts across the state. Instead of holding school from 9:25am to 3:21pm, Orchard Gardens extended its school day, holding school from 7:20am to 5pm. This three hour and forty five minute increase in class time allowed students to spend more time with core subjects, while adding an elective period and time for the Citizen Schools program. The new schedule gave teachers an hour a week to collaborate and work on lesson plans, while only increasing the teacher work week by five hours per week. This is a result of strong school-community partnerships, community volunteers and AmeriCorps members supporting the students in the afternoons. Orchard Gardens has risen to the top of the state’s rankings after the school transitioned to ELT, and is now being used as a model for schools around the country.
Expanding the school day for students allows them to have more interaction with different experiences, giving them the opportunity to discover more about their interests and become more engaged in school. Jonathan Brice of the United States Department of Education points out that the extension of school may be the only reason that kids come to school; they know that they will be challenged and have the chance to discover something new. This is done without sacrificing the curriculum and enhances the ability of students to perform on tests. Creating this ‘liberal arts’ atmosphere for students will help them to be more versatile in this fast-changing economy, and to step out of their comfort zones – a challenge that schools should encourage students to take. The education achievement gap will only be eliminated after the opportunity gap is as well.
For more resources on Expanded Learning Opportunities from the Coalition for Community Schools, click here.