Combine Community Schools with Expanding Learning Time to Help Disadvantaged Youth

Breaking the Mold: Combining Community Schools with Expanded Learning Time to Help Educationally Disadvantaged Students

Center for American Progress


Students who are struggling academically may benefit from participation in two types of programs that restructure the classroom experience, according to this study. It says that two reform models – one based on the development of a community school that would provide a wide array of support services, the other focused on an increase in time allotted for academic and enrichment activities – have been successfully implemented in hundreds of schools across the country, but few have attempted to develop and integrate the programs simultaneously.

Both models attempt to redefine the rigidity of a traditional school environment, targeting “educationally disadvantaged students” who live in “disproportionately low or lower middle-income communities,” where a variety of factors may limit their academic achievement.

The study outlines the benefits of mixing the models, by examining three elementary and middle schools (two in Chicago and one in Camden, N.J.) that have done so. Community schools provide services aimed at supporting the physical, mental and social needs of students and families. The model includes at least one partnership with a community organization, ranging from a nonprofit to a private business. The expanding learning plan focuses on the restructuring of the academic day, week or year to include more time for teaching, extracurricular pursuits and staff development.

At Burroughs Elementary School in Chicago, for example, the school day was expanded by one  hour, which the authors cite to explain the school’s “impressive” test scores. While 93.7 percent of the students are low-income, its 2008-2009 test scores were higher than both the state and district averages. Another Chicago school, Marquette Elementary, similarly expanded its school day and developed a variety of community-based services, including a new health center. The combined model gives students more time to learn and focus more on classes, as other, non-academic needs are met.

A lack of funding serves as the biggest obstacle to the success of a combined program. The authors recommend more federal funding, and greater state and local government involvement in the development of the initiatives.

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