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Expanded Learning Opportunities Boost Instruction in Community Schools


What’s the best way for students to learn beyond the traditional school day? Many advocate for expanding learning time – after school or lengthening the school year. Others seek to expand the opportunities available to students after school is dismissed to supplement core instruction. Some do both. 
But the somber reality of shrinking schools budgets means more places are asking about the role community school partners can play in filling the gaps before and after school or during the weekend and summer. Many are coming to the conclusion that the community school approach is the best way to strategically and purposefully select the partners they need. This approach allows innovative instructional practices in school and beyond school to take off.
With their focus on a shared vision and alignment of activities and supports, community schools enable schools and their communities to teach a student the 21st century skills they need, and go well beyond what any other piecemeal approach can offer. 
Expanding learning opportunities are a central tenet of community school. That's exactly why community schools are "smart schools." Like a smart phone, community schools have a menu of interconnected strategies, supports, and activities that school leadership teams can easily call-up to address a student's needs - like the latest phone application.

The collaborative nature of community schools allow stakeholders to cooperatively plan and design instructional activities during the school day and beyond that align with a school's academic goals.
Community school initiatives around the country have created the infrastructure and partnerships to support strategies that expand learning time and opportunities. While some see community schools as solely providing health and other wrap-around services, the fact is that after school programs and ELO have always been part their core mission.
Summer Opportunities
Part of what helped catapult Cincinnati Public Schools to the top of Ohio’s school system performance ranks is the intentional focus on supporting academics through its Community Learning Centers (CLC).
Four years ago, incoming superintendent Mary Ronan took aim at turning around the district’s lowest performing schools by implementing four additional weeks of learning during the summer at its CLCs, calling it "the Fifth Quarter."
Students attend school for a full-day, now for five weeks, starting at the beginning of the summer. Students at Fifth Quarter schools spend their mornings focused on math, language arts, and reading while spending the afternoon participating in partner-supported enrichment activities such as art, music, martial arts, and environmental science and exploration. These activities focus on preparing students on transitioning to the upcoming school year and not remediation.
Today, the school district blends a myriad of funds to support Fifth Quarter at 17 schools. For example, Title I, Wallace Foundation, and NASA fund the teachers, instructional assistants, and materials for the academic portion of the day. Staff and contracted services for the enrichment portion of Fifth Quarter are funded by 21st Century afterschool grants and The Wallace Foundation. Community partners serve as tutors, offer field trips, and support classroom instruction. Partners also contribute a variety of programs, activities, volunteers.  
To combat potential summer learning loss, the Children’s Aid Society in New York City, implemented a number of summer enrichment programs for babies all the way up to high schoolers at its summer camps at their community schools. One such program is the Read4Life Initiative, in which children read an average of 25 books during the seven-week series. CAS even held summer camps for parents.
In Vancouver, Washington, kindergarteners from low-income neighborhoods can get a jump start on their school year curriculum by attending a 19-day session prior to the start of the school year at their neighborhood community school.
Expanding Opportunities by Design
Baltimore began its community school initiative seven years ago as a partnership between the Family League of Baltimore City, Baltimore City Public Schools and the city government with just a handful of schools participating.
The Family League, which oversees the community school initiative and manages all the community-based organizations involved in the initiative, awarded 37 CBOs with grants to support the coordination of its community resource schools (the city’s community schools) strategy and its out-of-school time programs for pre-K through eighth grade students this past summer.
The Family League recognized that out of school time programming was best implemented and sustained within a community school strategy. These out-of-school activities "become part of the strategy for the school to achieve outcomes," said Rob Clark with the Family League.
Evansville –Vanderburgh School Corporation’s high-performing community school initiative is exploring a system that uses sort of a Response to Intervention framework that will allow administrators to use data dashboards to track an individual student’s progress, identify any deficiencies and deploy any necessary out-of-school activities provided by external partners.
It’s almost like an interactive individual learning plan, said Dr. Cathlin Gray, director of school, family, and community partnerships at EVSC.
For example, school leaders could identify a student struggling with science by reviewing its comprehensive data dashboard that the school system is putting into place. Administrators can then enroll that student in one of the afterschool outdoor science programs run by the local nature center.
"It makes us all on the same page," Gray said.
The Coalition is grateful for the generous support of the Wallace Foundation for our work on Expanded Learning Opportunities.
Does your community have a notable ELO approach? Tell us about it.  

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