What does a re-design of the school day for high school students look like? We‘ve been working with a small group of New York City High Schools to begin to answer that question. Each school works with a partnering community organization, and the teams all came together recently at TASC to update each other and share successes and challenges. While each school-community team is offering a unique set of opportunities to their students, their overall goals are similar: to offer students robust, relevant learning experiences that go beyond traditional classroom instruction.
They all agreed that adults who guide learning activities must be content experts and also able to develop connections to the students. (Many of the team members noted that someone who can’t personally engage with students can’t maintain high student attendance.) And while, right now, each school team may only be able to offer these special learning opportunities to a small number of students or only in a narrow content area, using the lens of expanded learning has helped to transform their partnerships. Many of the teams noted that they have stronger relationships now as a result of thinking about their work within the expanded learning time framework.
It reminded me of a comment I heard from the executive director of a community organization that partners with a K-8 school in Brooklyn that is part of our ExpandED Schools national demonstration. She described an “invisible line” that separated her from the principal of the school where she’d been offering activities for years. That line was erased when they moved to the ExpandED Schools teamwork approach. These traditional invisible lines are respectful separations, built on a notion of each entity doing its own job to support kids, and the coming together can be messy—questioning each other’s plans, developing a shared view of how children should be treated, having a role in hiring and training a blended workforce. And yes, it takes time and space to meet, plan, and collaborate.
But it was clear to me in our meeting that high school expanded learning has at its core school-community partnership. And part of the evolution to full implementation of expanded learning is the evolution of that partnership—as one attendee put it—from honeymoon to real marriage. In just a few months of “real marriage,” the six teams represented at the meeting have been able to offer students richer in-school academic experiences; better guidance on what it takes to get into and then, even more important, succeed in college; enrichments that are fun, authentic, and challenging; and a stronger network of supportive adults who ensure that kids don’t fall through the cracks. The policy wonk in me saw that the cost-efficiencies and sustainability of these efforts seems to have gone up as well.
We’re continuing to develop our approach to high school expanded learning, but a big thank you goes out to these teams who are already showing us what good marriages look like, and what impact they can have on young people’s lives.