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.
At An Achievable Dream Middle and High School in Newport News, Virginia the expectation is that all students – 83 percent of whom qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch – will graduate from high school prepared for success in college and the workplace.
“Expanded learning time gives the option to declare ‘no failure,’” says Lee Vreeland, the school’s director of education and student services. “There is time to ensure that all succeed.”
Expanded learning time gives the option to declare ‘no failure.’An Achievable Dream operates on a calendar of 210 8-hour days. In earlier grades, it uses the extra time to focus on reading and math, helping students below grade level to catch up. In later grades, the extra time is used to prepare students for advanced work, where students are encouraged to enroll in advanced course work, such as AP calculus and dual-enrollment courses with local colleges.
Students in later grades participate in the school’s unique “What it Takes” curriculum, taking two to three classes each week intended to teach students the skills they need for success in the workplace, such as collaboration and teamwork. Business leaders teach the courses, forging community partnerships with the school that can lead to internship opportunities for students. Roughly 90 percent of juniors and seniors are involved in an internship or job shadowing experience.
Also reflecting the school’s intense focus on preparing every student for college, An Achievable Dream uses expanded time to support students through the college application and financial aid processes. Many Achievable Dream students will be the first in their families to go to college.
With 93 percent of Achievable Dream students scoring at proficient or above on Virginia’s state English language arts exam, and 92 percent scoring at proficient or above on math, An Achievable Dream is making good on its founding promise “that all children can learn and succeed regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds.”