The benefit of expanded learning programs
In late 2011, per the recommendation of State Superintendent Tom Torlakson’s Transition Team, the California Department of Education established a new After School Division (ASD). In October 2012, the ASD released its “Statement of Strategic Direction,” which highlights expanded learning programs that should be “results-driven, flexible to student and community needs, include community partners, and complement but not replicate traditional classroom instruction” (CDE After School Division, 2012).
The After School Division recognizes that the highest quality expanded learning programs are those that are active, collaborative, meaningful, support mastery and expand horizons (Piha, 2012).
According to research by the Harvard Family Research Project, expanded learning programs are uniquely positioned to partner with schools to improve student outcomes, leverage resources, and support school improvement strategies (Harvard Family Research Project, 2010). Developing strong partnerships between the school day and after school partners is a key indicator of high quality programs (Harvard Family Research Project, 2008).
Students who regularly and fully participate in a state-funded After School Education and Safety or federal-funded 21st Century Community Learning Center after school, intercession and/or summer programs gain the equivalent of up to an extra 90 days of school. These programs not only provide tutoring and homework support in key academic areas, but a wide range of hands-on activities that include project-based enrichment activities that may not be available during the school day.
Middle school students in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District in Watsonville have built and raced go-carts, built solar ovens, grown and harvested their own fruits and vegetables for use in cooking classes, designed and implemented service-learning projects, and established peer-to-peer mentoring projects with neighboring elementary schools.
Superintendent Dorma Baker said, “We are especially proud of our Extended Learning Fitness 4 Life component of the after school program. The program is dedicated to developing skills in youth for a healthier future and has been very successful. The program was awarded as a Silver Medalist by the Governor’s Council.”
The Fresno County Office of Education and California Teaching Fellows Foundation partner to provide a huge variety of activities with intentional learning goals for hundreds of children each year. Their program at the Central Unified School District is focused on a novel that the middle school participants read and then explore more fully through hands-on projects and experiences.
This past summer’s novel, “The Red Pyramid,” led youth through a deep study of Egyptian culture, scientific inquiry into the pyramids and mummification, and English language arts through theater.
Central Superintendent Mike Berg said, “Summer and after school programs are an integral component of Central’s effort to provide our neediest students experiences they otherwise might not get, thus predisposing them to being at a disadvantage to their more affluent peers. Our students enjoy the programs so much that they frequently forget they are in a learning setting.”
When designed with student learning outcomes in mind, expanded learning programs reinforce and bring to life the concepts introduced and taught during the school day. Expanded learning programs are uniquely positioned to develop habits of mind, which build the overarching critical thinking, problem solving, and collaborative skills essential to students’ success in school, career and life.
Furthermore, when students are engaged in relationships with other caring adults and mentors on their school campuses, the connection between social, academic and workforce skills is made even more real.
“It goes deeper than quantifiable content,” said Bob Cabeza, executive director of the YMCA of Greater Long Beach. “Our approach has to be relational bonding to pro-social norms. Young people are hungry for relationships and the presence of long-term role models keeps kids coming to school. Kids listen to people, not rules.”
The Sacramento City School District bridges students’ entry into both middle and high school programs with its “Summer of Service” program. Through this program, more than 800 young people are inspired to research, debate, select and plan collaborative service learning projects. Many of the projects focus on their new school communities, giving them an opportunity to interact with older peers from their new schools and to feel ownership of their new facility.
These collaborative examples demonstrate the types of learning and habits of mind that are the essence of the CCSS. When expanded learning and school day programs collaborate well, the benefits for student learning experiences and success can be exponential.