BLOG SERIES: Innovations in Expanded Learning in Community Schools

August 9, 2013
In the summer of July 2013, the Coalition for Community Schools launched a nine-week blog series on how community school initiatives are supporting and strengthening innovations in expanded learning opportunities (ELO). schools and communities are increasingly feeling the need to pay more attention to the opportunity gap facing our students. While the inequitable distribution of school resources (e.g., teachers, funding) has been well documented, there are also great inequities in the opportunities available inside and outside of the conventional school day.
Most educators agree that a well-rounded learning experience for children, whether during or beyond the conventional school day, should include a high-quality school curriculum as well as enriching and engaging learning and developmental opportunities such as drama, music, robotics, athletics, homework support, service learning and project-based learning. However, too many children, especially our nation’s poorest, lack access to high-quality expanded learning opportunities that we know lead to better cognitive social, emotional, and developmental outcomes for students.
Community schoolsensure that students receive the panoply of academic and developmental learning opportunities during and beyond the school day. Expanding learning opportunities is one of the key dimensions of a community school(learn about the other dimensions such as community engagement and health and social supports here. In a community school, school staff or contract providers collaborate with community partners to focus on more time and more opportunities to learn. Community schools, by focusing on collaboration, are ideal incubators for high-quality and locally-supported expanded learning opportunities.Community schools have the structures and systems in place to not only create innovative ELO practices, but also to scale and sustain these practices to create positive outcomes for students, families, and communities.
Community partnerships are central to expanded learning opportunities in community schools. Partners range from community based organizations, institutions of higher education, faith-based institutions, to recreation departments, and many more. Partners offer badly needed opportunities to avoid summer slide, deepen students’ interactions with the community, enable them to see career opportunities, help enhance the curriculum or provide an opportunity to reimagine the school schedule so teachers have more time to collaborate and plan.
While Coalition partners cover a range of such partnerships, a particular subset primarily focus on ELO, including the Afterschool AllianceNational Center for Time and Learning, National Summer Learning Association, National Institute on Out-of-School TimePartnership for After School EducationThe Expanded Learning and Afterschool Project, and The After-School Corporation (TASC). These organizations understand that school-community partnerships are essential to high-quality and sustained ELO.
So, what do we mean by expanded learning opportunities? When we began speaking with our ELO colleagues and community school practitioners about all the different types of ELO, we decided it would be helpful to frame the conversation around a comprehensive ELO typology
We define expanded learning opportunities as more time for academics and enrichment beyond the conventional school day (e.g. extended day, summer, after school, etc.) and learning and development experiences that enhance the school curriculum during the conventional school day (e.g., community-based learning, community problem solving, and linked learning).
Over the next nine weeks this blog series will highlight innovative ELO practices from the diverse communities listed below. Community school leaders and practitioners will share their thinking about ELO design, planning and decision making, alignment with the school curriculum, relationship between schools and partners, innovative and blended use of funding, and how their community school systems and structures support various innovative ELO practices. As the blogs will show, community schools and their partners are providing more opportunities across all the times students can be reached, including the conventional school day.  We hope this blog series will bring various elements of ELO strategies to life and offer solutions that are transferable across communities.

Join us and give us your feedback as you read through the blogs over the next few weeks.


June12, 2013: Blog 1: Cincinnati is Open for Business during School Breaks

June 19, 2013: Blog 2: New Haven: Boosting Afterschool with Partners & Data to Get Results

June 26, 2013: Blog 3: Strengthening ELO Activities into the Weekend

July 3, 2013: Blog 4: Discover the Summer in Ogden

July 10, 2013: Blog 5: Breakfast Buddies: Empowering Students in Before-School Hours

July 17, 2013: Blog 6: A Different School Calendar: Continuous Learning & Support During Break

July 24, 2013: Blog 7: Innovating STEM Learning Opportunities with Higher Education Institutions

July 31, 2013: Blog 8: Experiment with School Year Calendar Supported by Community Partners

August 7, 2013: Blog 9: Extended School Day Redesigned

The Coalition for Community Schools is an alliance of national, state and local organizations in education K-16, youth development, community planning and development, family support, health and human services, government and philanthropy as well as national, state and local community school networks. The Coalition advocates for community schools as the vehicle for strengthening schools, families and communities so that together they can improve student learning.

These blogs were originally published by the Coalition for Community Schools blog and are reprinted on SparkAction with permission.