As part of Fort Logan Elementary School’s turnaround plan, students spend additional hours at school on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons, participating in art, music, dance, martial arts, leadership, and science classes. The time also allows for additional reading instruction, to ensure that even students who are falling behind are able to catch up and read at grade level. According to Fort Logan’s Principal, Barb Johnson, “When our students leave for the day you can be assured that they have participated in a well-rounded and rigorous education that will afford them every opportunity to succeed.”
The education Johnson has in mind for each Fort Logan student includes more than just academics – it also includes lessons in things like discipline and patience, as evidenced by the school’s popular tae kwon do classes. Fort Logan student Gael says tae kwon do taught him to express himself, and now he thinks more creatively about his future. Other schools may only have core subjects, but at Gael’s school “we get science and tae kwon do, so now we know more – a little bit more about what we’re going to be when we grow up.”
So with expanded learning time, doing fun things like science and drumming, that’s going to make you want to learn more. That’s going to make you want to go to school more. The opportunity to take tae kwon do and other electives while knowing they won’t fall behind in reading or math allows students like Gael to foster natural curiosity and enthusiasm for school. “I feel like the extra time they have in expanded learning time is going to help them have deeper and broader experiences so they can know that there’s more out there,” said 4th grade teacher Ken White.
Gael feels the same way, saying that the opportunity to try new things is what makes school enjoyable. “If I didn’t have expanded learning time, we would just go home, and that wouldn’t be any fun,” Gael said. “So with expanded learning time, doing fun things like science and drumming, that’s going to make you want to learn more. That’s going to make you want to go to school more.”
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.
The result is that our students have performed better consistently year after year because of expanded learning time.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.
One of the biggest reasons for my students’ success this past year was the extended period of time with them.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. “One of the biggest reasons for my students’ success this past year was the extended period of time with them,” says Ben Rockoff, an administrator at the school who taught seventh-grade math during the 2010-2011 school year.
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.
The expanded schedule has not just made room for more math and reading; it has also created more time for art and music, physical education, and foreign languages. Students at Orchard Gardens have access to everything from Mandarin classes to theater. Orchard Gardens also offers students homework support, apprenticeship opportunities, and college readiness courses.
These learning opportunities help make school more engaging for students like Carlos. And although Orchard Gardens is still a work in progress, the initial results are impressive. Students have more time for both academic and enrichment opportunities, teachers have more time for collaboration, and student performance on state reading and math exams jumped 10 percent and 16 percent, respectively. Orchard Gardens is making the case that with thoughtful use of expanded time, transformation is possible.