Prior to starting my work at the Time to Succeed Coalition (TSC), I was a teacher in an inner-city classroom. From that work, I know that expanding learning time has a real and significant impact for students, parents, teachers, and communities. However, now that I am working in an office and away from the day-to-day life of a school, it is easy to lose sight of the impact of expanded learning time.
But yesterday, I was able to reconnect with that impact at a legislative briefing on ELT at the Massachusetts State House sponsored by Mass 2020, Citizen Schools, Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, Massachusetts Teachers Association, and Stand for Children Massachusetts.
Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and Representative Alice Peisch – co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Education and TSC MA Signatories – co-hosted the event and welcomed the diverse audience ranging from fellow legislators to civic leaders to community leaders and everyone in between. Then it was off to the races for a jam-packed agenda! Chris Gabrieli, co-chair of TSC and Chairman of Mass 2020, moderated the briefing, first outlining the history of ELT in Massachusetts. Governor Deval Patrick came too – making a powerful argument about why he believes expanded learning time is a powerful tool for students in high-poverty communities and why it is the right time to increase funding and bring new schools on board.
However, the event was not just about hearing from the policy leaders. Perhaps the most powerful part of the briefing was the diverse panel who spoke to the impact of ELT day in and day out: Revere Superintendent Paul Dakin; Silvia/North End School Principal Denise Ward in Fall River; Longsjo Middle School Seventh Teachers Tracy Pappas and Teresa Gammel; Maria Hernandez, a parent and administrator from the Community Day Charter School in Lawrence; and the highlight for me, Krystal, a senior from Madison Park High School in Boston.
Krystal was a sixth grader at Boston’s Edwards Middle School in 2006 when the school began implementing longer school days as a part of the first statewide initiative to expand learning time in the country. She fondly reflected on her experience in middle school as a well-rounded experience where she was able to intern at a law office – thanks to Citizen Schools – and was able to get small group intervention in English. She credited the expanded school day for her ability to be more social and break out of her shell and spoke about entering ninth grade feeling more prepared than her peers who came from schools without ELT. Once a struggling student, Krystal now takes AP classes and has been accepted with a full scholarship to Union College, making her the first person in her family to attend a four-year college. As a former middle school teacher, those were the opportunities I was pushing my students towards and I pray that they now have.
The rest of the panel was inspiring as well. Maria Hernandez talked about her child learning about the importance of healthy nutrition and the importance of her son being safe while she is at work. Tracy Pappas and Teresa Gammel shared their experiences as English teachers who also teach enrichment classes that help them to develop deeper relationships with their students outside of the traditional teacher-student relationship. The power of more time was evident.
All of that is to say, I left that event re-energized! As we work to continue building support for ELT around the country, every now and again it is great to get out of the office and remember why it is we do this work – the students, the teachers, and the parents that are impacted when schools expand learning time.