Extended School Day Redesigned

Jodi Miller, Coalition for Community Schools and Steven Mitchell & Bo Hoppins, Young Achievers
August 7, 2013

This blog is a part of a nine-week series on how community school initiatives are supporting and strengthening innovations in expanded learning opportunities (ELO), curated by the Coalition for Community Schools. Check out the whole series.

Vision for Extending the Traditional School Day

The idea of extending the school day is not a new one. Educators have been looking at the value of transitioning from a six-hour day to a seven- or eight-hour school day for years. Though the movement to increase the number of hours students spend in school did not pick up momentum until more recently, the Young Achievers Science and Mathematics Pilot School in Boston, Massachusetts has proven that an extended day may be an effective way to support at-risk youth.
 
Established by community activists, Young Achievers focuses on teaching science and math to students of color in the Mattapan neighborhood of Boston. Their vision includes partnerships with local organizations in order to support the predominantly low-income population. Over the past two decades the school has grown from a population of 150 students to approximately 600 children in grades K-8.
 
What sets this particular institution apart from other schools in the Boston Public Schools is the unique schedule it follows and the support it has to make that happen. As a pilot school, Young Achievers receives the same budget as the more traditional schools in the area, but has more autonomy with spending. Since its installation in the 1990s, a main priority of administrators has been extending the amount of learning time. Instead of the typical 8:00-3:00 school day, Young Achievers starts at 9:30 and ends at 4:30.

Enrichment Embedded into the School Day

Young Achievers restructured their extended day to allow for student enrichment and professional development. The creation of an enrichment block that included traditional school specials along with more typical “enrichment clubs” gives children access to non-academic learning opportunities during the school day, while simultaneously providing teachers with time for preparation and collaboration.
 
The enrichment block, supported primarily by community partners, offers students a variety of specialty classes, also known as specials. Some examples include music, physical education, art, dance and chess. Students in both the lower school (grades PK-5) and the upper school (grades 6-8) enjoy at least one special per day. The younger children attend nearly all of the electives in order to gain maximum exposure to the offerings, while older students select classes based on their preferences. The power to decide gives students a sense of ownership over their education, and forces them to evaluate their strengths.
 
Teachers also benefit from the inclusion of specials into the schedule. During the time children spend at their electives, teachers can plan or work with colleagues. This fosters more collaboration among professionals and allows for increased class preparation time.
 
Though pleased with the results to date, the administration is in the process of transitioning to a new schedule. The traditional five day schedule became difficult to balance academic enrichment equitably for all students because some children would have one special two days a week, while others had three. Following a six day rotation would ameliorate the problem and increase targeted interventions for at risk students.

School-Community Partnerships a part of the Vision

Community activists who helped found the school emphasized the value of community partnerships for ensuring students receive maximum support. In 2010, the school received a federal Full Service Community Schools grant that helped them partner with local organizations like Boston Nature Center, Sports4Kids, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Mattapan Community Health Center. These close relationships have allowed Young Achievers to offer specials during the day as well as services before and after school. The enrichment block has benefitted enormously from the partnership with Berklee College of Music as well as the Museum of Fine Arts. Assistance from these local organizations has provided stimulating programs students can enjoy during the day.
 
Administrators at Young Achievers attribute the success of their programs, especially the enrichment block to their relationships with partners. According to Bwanda Owen, the former Director of School and Community, had Young Achievers not been a community school they would:
 
[P]robably be leaning more towards just trying to do everything ourselves, which doesn’t work. It’s really hard to have an extended learning program without the support of the partnerships and without the support of the community because it’s really hard to have all these different enrichment activities just relying on the teachers.[i]
 
Community members and parents have been exceptionally supportive of Young Achievers. Some volunteer their time in school, like the community member who teaches a special of taekwondo, while others assist with attempts to fundraise for the school. One special offered through the Enrichment Club was taekwondo, led by a community member. This past May, Young Achievers opened their new outdoor space provided by the Boston Schoolyard Initiative. This private organization, which relies on the generosity of foundations, corporations, partners, and volunteers has helped revitalize the schoolyard of 84 schools, including Young Achievers. Friends of Young Achievers (FOYA), a nonprofit created in 1999, has also been instrumental in assisting the school to deliver academic excellence.

Challenges

One challenge associated with the extended day schedule has been transportation. Parents who leave early for work rely on bussing provided by the district. This prevents students from attending early morning or after school programming. While the academic day officially begins at 9:30, students can arrive at 7AM for academic assistance or non-academic learning opportunities. Young Achievers also offers activities until 6PM for children whose parents can pick them up. In order to ensure all children gain access to traditional afterschool activities, Young Achievers established the enrichment block to make the specials available to everyone.


This blog was originally published by the Coalition for Community Schools and is reprinted with permission.