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“ELT is a no-brainer for urban schools, for the kids in those schools…for arts and health, for everyone,” said Ned Eames, president and founder of Tenacity Inc. at a CAP event Wednesday on the role that community-based organizations play as partners in schools with expanded school calendars. Eames was joined by Kathleen Traphagen, principal at Traphagen Consulting; Patty Genese, expanded learning time facilitator at Jacob Hiatt Magnet School in Worcester, MA; and CAP Associate Director of Education Policy Melissa Lazarín, who moderated the event.
Expanding learning time in school has become a core strategy of the national education reform agenda as policymakers and educators recognize that the standard school calendar does not fit many students’ needs. Schools where low-income students succeed typically have more instructional time than conventional schools, either in the form of a longer schedule for all students or in targeted academic support classes.
ELT is a “new level” of partnership where community-based organizations such as arts and cultural institutions take on collaborative roles within the school. They provide instruction in academic and enrichment content to students, professional development for teachers, and mental and physical health services to students. They engage in parent outreach and involvement. And they play a key role in the governance, funding, policy development, and pedagogical practice of the school, according to Traphagen.
But ELT is “not a silver bullet” to save our public school systems on a national scale. It does, however, bring “extraordinary opportunities” for students who “have the most to gain,” said Lazarín.
ELT is gaining momentum among public schools with “opportunities to share best practices,” asserted Traphagen. The approach has established a foundation for more strategic, intense collaboration than a traditional public school schedule, and its successes inspire many conventional schools to “redesign.”
A recent CAP report on “Expanded Learning Time Schools and Community Organization Partnerships” centered on four standard district public schools in Massachusetts and one public charter school in New Jersey. The report primarily focused on Massachusetts because it is the only state where ELT is a statewide, publicly funded initiative. Twenty-two traditional Massachusetts district schools have expanded their schedule by 300 hours through the ELT initiative launched in 2005 by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in partnership with a local intermediary, Massachusetts 2020. The underlying belief is that more time will equal more learning, and the Massachusetts example proves that quantity does enhance quality, Traphagen explained.
One successful ELT partnership is in East Boston with the organization Tenacity. Tenacity, which is 10 years old, is “about the whole child,” said Eames. It has a $3 million budget and focuses on literacy, life skills, and tennis, working with kids from middle school all the way through high school graduation to “focus on student outcomes.”
“We want to make tennis and reading available” to any Boston kid who wants to try it and “help change the trajectory of their lives,” said Eames. The ELT partnership has “been a huge success” with some of the kids making two years of literacy progress in one year. ELT has “absolutely been the right decision.” Ninety-five percent of students who participate in the Tenacity program for at least three years graduate from high school. Of those, 85 percent go on to college.
ELT removes the selection option of afterschool programs, but it teaches partners how to adjust and build relationships with the kids. “It’s the relationships that make or break the success or progress,” said Eames. With ELT, “the student wins” because it extends the school day and integrates high-quality activities and new opportunities to enrich the students’ education. The partnerships become embedded in the school community, leading to family engagement and student retention, while built-in facilities provide stability, routine, and structure.
Another example is the Jacob Hiatt Magnet School’s partnership with the local Worcester YMCA. The data driving this partnership are the students’ health and physical activity needs. The school does not have a gym, so ELT with YMCA makes the students feel as if the gym is part of their school and that physical activity is a necessary part of their education.
“Our partners come in as partners,” Genese explained of the collaborative process between the school and community organizations such as the YMCA, Old Sturbridge Village, Clark University, and the New England Aquarium. The programs meet the needs of all students because the “aim [is] to develop the whole child” and give all the students “the same exposure.” But funding has “depleted,” Genese lamented.
Funding is the major challenge, but not the only one. Others include: financing and sustainability, defining outcomes to measure success, and successfully aligning partner programs and services with the school’s instructional focus.
It is “important for schools to broaden their perspective,” said Traphagen. School districts often need encouragement and motivation, but it’s important to remember that ELT is not a panacea—it’s “a school reform strategy.”
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