More than 90 expanded-time schools in Massachusetts join the 1,000 pioneering schools around the country that are showing how expanding learning time for all of their students can help to boost student achievement, empower teachers, and strengthen communities. These schools are leading the way, proving that modernizing the school calendar is not only possible, but a necessity for high-poverty schools.
Sondra Arnold didn’t feel like art had a place in Kuss Middle School’s increasingly rushed school day. As the sole visual arts teacher responsible for over 500 students, Arnold couldn’t find the time to plan the electives she had in mind – painting, drawing, sculpture outside of just ceramics, and even manga, Japanese comic book art – nor did her students have time to settle into the relaxed mindset they would need to tap into their artistic potential.
Then in 2004, Kuss Middle School was the first school in Massachusetts designated as chronically underperforming by the state. Ms. Arnold says, “Teachers that were here for the long haul felt disheartened. They felt as if the district was giving up on them. In fact, that was not the case.” In the months that followed, teachers and administrators worked with experts to integrate an expanded learning time schedule, a change that has had a profound positive impact on teacher preparation, student opportunities and, ultimately, the performance of the school as a whole.
For Nancy Mullen, the principal at Kuss, the benefits of ELT are clear. “When we began the work at Kuss Middle School, expanded learning time became a possibility in that first year and our teachers embraced the opportunity to be able to provide enrichment and more academic instruction for our students,” Mullen says. “Since that time, expanded learning time has enabled our students to look at their deficits and to have more fun in school. The result is that our students have performed better consistently year after year because of expanded learning time.”
Today, expanded learning time at Kuss Middle School allows Ms. Arnold to plan art classes she knows will benefit her students, reaching those individuals who struggle with math or writing and providing them with a creative outlet to excel. The benefits show in the classroom and beyond, with more confident, higher performing students and teachers and administrators who share enthusiasm for the school’s bright future.
When Carlos and his friends first heard about plans to expand the school day at Orchard Gardens, they weren’t thrilled. “We thought we’d be really bored staying in school until five-thirty every day,” says Carlos, a seventh-grader who started as a kindergartner at Orchard Gardens. “But once we got used to it, we realized that school was actually more fun.”
Orchard Gardens was a school with significant challenges. Situated in one of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods, it had five different principals over seven years. During that time, the share of students scoring at or above proficient in reading or math stagnated below 20 percent.
In 2010, Orchard Gardens’ new principal, Andrew Bott, worked with his leadership team, faculty, and community partners like Citizen Schools to expand learning time. With the new school schedule, students and teachers are noticing a difference.
Of course, more time does not just mean more of the same. Teachers at Orchard Gardens have more time to review and assess student learning data, making it possible to identify areas where individual students are falling behind. “From that information, I might spend more time with that student on those concepts during class, or work with them one-on-one outside of class,” Rockoff says.
At Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Boston, Massachusetts – whose students go to school eight hours 180 days each year – the school’s mission is to “prepare students to enter, succeed in, and graduate from college.” With almost 100% of its alumni graduating from high school and nearly 60% of them enrolled in, or are graduates of, colleges and universities across the nation, the school is no doubt living up to its mission.
A key factor to this success is the additional time in core subjects: math and literacy. Both subjects are divided into two separate blocks totaling four classes. “When we looked at what we wanted our students to learn in literacy,” recounts Principal Greg Woodward, “we decided that there were really two skills involved: comprehension and composition.” Rather than one class that attempts to do both pieces, the school decided to utilize their expanded schedule by separating them. For example, students attend a Reading class– where students focus on comprehension skills in a variety of texts – and a general English class– where teachers help students develop strong writing skills, which are critical for success in school and work.
In mathematics, the school followed a similar structure because as Principal Woodward explains, “in order to know the steps to actually solve the problem and then apply those steps in the abstract, such as in word problems, we needed two distinct math periods.” And, with the longer day, the in-depth and focused instruction on math and literacy does not mean sacrificing social studies, science, or enrichment activities; the students are still able to have a well-rounded schedule.
Teachers too are seeing the benefits from the expanded schedule. They are able to focus on one content area, teach one elective course, and provide intensive individualized support to students during the school day. In fact, 90% of the enrichment classes are taught by teachers who chose the subject based on their own interests and the other 10% of enrichment classes are provided through community partnerships.
“We wanted to create a balance,” said Principal Woodward “and the only way to do that was expanding the school day.”