A colleague of mine talks of the culture differences that sometimes exist between schools and out-of-school time (OST) programs. He suggests that the two entities may not speak the same language or have the same customs or norms around education and development but ultimately have the same goals.
Out-of-school time is more often focused on the “soft skills” of social emotional learning versus “hard” academic skills. Differences in approach become more apparent when the two entities work side by side.
With the advent of extended learning opportunities (ELO), the two worlds are beginning to meld; community-based out-of-school time programs are joining forces with school-day teachers focused on skill building. For more than a decade, the National Institute on Out-of-School Time has offered training on “links to learning” to help bridge these two cultures, but the need for breaking down the silos is still real and requires a hands-on and relational approach.
Recently, I participated in an observation of a middle school extended-day program. The program was literacy-focused; a class period run by the extended-day partner to give youths who are lagging behind time to catch up. I was joined by the school principal and the program leader.
For 45 minutes, we watched groups of youth led by young adults discussing novels the youth had selected. The choices included a wide range of contemporary and classic books. We used an out-of-school time observation quality tool to rate the activity’s challenge, youth’s engagement in the activity, supportive adult behavior, peer relations, etc. We then debriefed the observation.
During my observation, I noticed a male youth at one table with his arms folded and his hooded sweatshirt-covered head nestled down on them. When I approached the table, I thought he might be asleep. However, as I continued to watch him, I saw that he was very much engaged. He frequently raised his head, participated enthusiastically in the discussion and answered questions. He clearly had read the book and was interested in exploring the meaning of the story. There were no cues that the other youth minded his laid-back behavior and they participated as well.
During our debrief of the observation I noted the differing viewpoints of the ELO leader and the principal and how they came to resolution. The principal showed concern about behavior — the student not following the rules about sitting upright and keeping the head uncovered. The ELO manager said the adult activity leader knows his students well and “picks his moments.”
This interchange highlights some deeper questions about OST and school intersecting. How do we work together as partners so we affirm the value that each brings to youth? How do we bring our cultures closer together — the more formal school day and the more informal out-of-school time — so our mutual efforts are empowering and high-learning?
In essence, the two adults agreed to disagree on style because they know deep down they want the same things for the youth in their charge. They are each equally committed to supporting the lives of youth (particularly underserved youth) to increase their likelihood of becoming healthy, productive citizens.
Bridging the world of school and out-of-school time takes a commitment of time and effort to master and maintain communication. Tools and evidence can help the process, but ongoing dialogue, persistence and an appreciation of each other’s cultures is essential.
Kathy Schleyer, M.S., is the director of training and quality improvement at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, where she focuses on professional development at the program and system level.