… Run Effective Extended Learning Programs

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Let’s admit this right away: While Extended Learning Time and Extended Learning Opportunities are getting lots of attention, they sometimes seem a lot like what plain-speaking people simply call after-school programs.

Basically, that’s what they are. But they are a specific type of after-school program, one that more and more program operators see as an opportunity for growth.

They are building on the continuing push to raise the performance of students through longer school days, more learning time and more creative means of engagement. Earlier this year, the American Youth Policy Forum released a study, Learning Around the Clock: Benefits of Expanded Learning Opportunities for Older Youth, that followed the efforts of 22 Expanded Learning Opportunity (ELO) programs. It found that extended days with more demanding schedules seem to provide youth with skills that help them engage in more positive behavior, feel greater independence and self-confidence, make better decisions, become more involved in their communities and improve academic performance.

They also offer a way for youth programs to connect with or deepen their relationships with schools.

What is ELO?

The definitions of ELO and Extended Learning Time (ELT) vary, and in many ways ELO programs are a form of academic-based after-school programs. But where after-school operators often stress that their programs are not fundamentally extensions of the school day, ELO programs are set up to be exactly that.

So while after-school programs vary from drop-in centers to structured daily activities, ELOs are built on a tighter structure and even have participation requirements. While more after-school programs are coordinating their activities with what children are learning in school, most ELOs are built on that arrangement.

In New York City, The After-School Corp.’s (TASC) Extended Learning Time initiative “engages students in structured activities tied to specific outcomes aligned with the school day,” says Communications Director Susan Brenna. Working in partnership with the city’s departments of Education and Youth and Community Development, TASC is piloting an extended school day at eight elementary schools and two middle schools that will extend class time for some students to 5:45 p.m. That’s about three hours after the end of the regular school day.

“After-school tends to be very loose,” says Valerie Sawinski, principal at one of the pilot sites, Junior High School 185, Edward Bleeker Junior High School in New York. “Children here are on a schedule, and we want something measurable at the end.”

Some after-school operators might balk; lots of programs are structured and measure academic outcomes. But Sawinski reflects the viewpoint of many principals, who are, of course, the key to any youth program that wants to operate in their halls.

In Massachusetts, not only are youth on a strictly defined schedule, but 26 schools that have joined the state’s Expanded Learning Time Initiative require that every student participate. “We felt this model mirrored that of high-performing private and charter schools,” says Jennifer Davis, co-founder of Massachusetts 2020, a private public-policy, research and programming organization, which sponsors the initiative, and president of the National Center on Time & Learning. Massachusetts 2020 has basically added 300 hours of classroom instruction a year for each student.

In other instances, ELO is not quite so clearly defined. Girls 2000, an ELO program in San Francisco, is run by Hunters Point Family, a community-based youth development agency, and has no direct relationship with any school; it’s located in public housing developments.

“That’s where the kids live,” says Girls 2000 founder Lena Miller. “That’s where the need was. We wanted to promote a family and community atmosphere.”

“ELO is not about time or location,” says Janice Hastings, vice president of programs and resource development at PlusTime New Hampshire, an after-school program provider that has helped launch an ELT pilot project at four schools in New Hampshire. “It can take place during school, after school, on weekends, on nights. It’s not a program; it’s a learning experience.”


Among the elements that participants cite as crucial to success:

• Partners – “This is not an easy process,” says Davis of Massachusetts 2020. “A typical nonprofit or local organization cannot take this on.”

TASC President Lucy Friedman says partnerships with community-based organizations (CBOs) are essential. And she believes the school has to be the leader.

Working with TASC has allowed schools in New York to avoid spending a lot of new money to run their ELO projects. “Adapt the after-school funding streams you already have to ELO,” TASC’s Brenna says.

• Creative staffing – ELO program coordinators say that finding staff to fill the needs of an extended day isn’t as hard as one might expect. Sean Davenport, principal of Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School in New York, has about half of his teachers participating in ELT, along with a site coordinator from his CBO, some AmeriCorps workers, a couple of parents and activities specialists as needed.

“I hired teachers to do my ELT because I wanted people teaching who already knew where the kids are in school,” he says.

• Transportation – “Transportation is the biggest impediment” to youth participation, says Sawinski at Edward Bleeker in New York. She says many students who want and need to participate in ELO at her school can’t, because they need to ride the school bus home when the traditional school day ends in mid-afternoon.

That’s why Girls 2000, an ELO program in San Francisco, uses its own van to take program participants home at the end of the day. “You can’t put kids on the public bus system,” says Girls 2000 founder Lena Miller. “It isn’t safe. If you have an extended learning program, providing transportation should be mandatory.”

Resource: Learning Around the Clock: Benefits of Expanded Learning Opportunities for Older Youth, http://www.aypf.org.