Few in Philadelphia oppose the idea or doubt the potential benefits of expanded learning time.
It’s paying for afterschool and summer programs that is causing consternation in all corners.
In the District, the overriding issue is keeping schools open from 8 to 3, not what comes after. Summer offerings are at a minimum, and sports and other extracurricular activities are on the chopping block.
Research about efforts to expand learning time is clear on one point: Low-income, low-achieving students of color benefit the most from spending more time in high-quality, regulated activities beyond traditional school hours.
At a typical public school that is open 180 days per year for six-and-a-half hours, students are spending only 20 percent of their total waking hours in school. That fact underlies the call for more structured learning time.
The idea of community schools, long discussed in Philadelphia but never quite a reality, takes to a whole different level the notion of maximizing time and optimizing resources for children.
More than just a place for students to have something stimulating to do in the afternoons, community schools integrate services for families right in the building. Other cities have developed the idea in ways that have been transformative, prompting a movement to bring community schools here.
At South Philadelphia High School, under principal Otis Hackney’s leadership, students don’t all bolt for home the minute the bell rings.
That’s because partnerships between the school and the community are providing them with a wealth of opportunities, from new sports like boys’ and girls’ lacrosse to programs like video production that engage their minds in different and exciting ways.
Jennifer Graham says she’s well aware of what researchers and educators have come to call “summer learning loss,” but she’s not concerned. Graham has made sure her daughter is in camp.
When looking around for summer activities for her 9-year-old daughter Talitha Roberts, she chose the one with – as she put it – “the education piece.”
With the School District in crisis and relentlessly cutting back, it might seem the wrong moment to focus on expanded learning time.
But in exploring the need for more time, we find examples of how schools – and in some cases whole cities – have leveraged and maximized scarce resources to serve children better.
Sulton Glass is just 7 years old, but he can ride his bike in traffic.
He’s learned to strap on his helmet, check his tires, and follow the rules of the road. That means he can join the other kids from the Neighborhood Bike Works for their weekly ride, a wobbly, giggling excursion through University City to the Woodlands Cemetery. There he’ll listen to a repair lesson, practice his hand signals, and swoop happily up and down the hilly, car-free roads that wind through the headstones. Finally he’ll follow the group down Chester Avenue, past Clark Park, up Locust Street, and safely back to his waiting mother.
For Michelle Melendez, the distractions at her local high school were too much. She was not getting her work done; she was doing poorly. “I was a troubled child,” she said.
So she enrolled in the ASPIRA Bilingual Virtual Charter School in the fall of 2011 – the school was brand-new then – and she says she has no regrets.
Small classes. Academic and emotional support before, during and after school. Focus on post-high school ambitions.
The ASPIRA Excel Academy, now in its second year, aims to serve a swath of students who over the years have frustrated educators: youth who are overage, under-credited and frequently out of place in their home schools.
Like the accelerated programs run by the District, the ASPIRA program seeks to put these students on a fast track to course completion -- and that elusive high school diploma.