As School Day Grows, Ties Deepen Between Schools, Providers
Move to longer days spurs partnerships
Ask any 2-year-old: It's not easy learning to share, to ponder the unthinkable request to split a chocolate bar or a box of crayons.
Yet, those are, well, child's play compared to divvying up some professional control and decision-making authority, which is what many schools are doing now as they work to lengthen the school day to bring more opportunities to their most vulnerable students. They are forging deeper—and sometimes unlikely—arrangements with organizations that traditionally provided only after-school programming.
These broad new partnerships with community organizations that once operated as little more than outside vendors renting space for their activities reflect a growing recognition that disadvantaged children and teenagers need more resources to succeed than any school or nonprofit alone has the capacity to provide.
"We have to think differently about the way we organize society's resources to get kids what they need," said Martin J. Blank, president of the Washington-based Institute for Educational Leadership, which houses the Coalition for Community Schools.
In the collaborative model, community organizations don't just show up at 3 p.m., run their art, music, computing, or sports activities and leave at 6 p.m. They're part of a strategic planning process intended to provide a seamless transition to enrichment activities so they complement what students are learning in class.
"It's really a joint enterprise with partners who have separate expertise and slightly different missions converging their work to get the results that are important to both of them," said Mr. Blank.
Providing the Push
The U.S. Department of Education is driving many of these deeper collaborations. For example, schools and community groups submitting joint applications get priority for after-school grants from the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program.
The federal Full Service Community Schools Program, School Improvement Grants, and Race to the Top district grants also seed such collaborations.
On a grander scale, the express purpose of the federal Promise Neighborhood program is to unite community groups, health and social services agencies, businesses, and schools to serve children in the nation's poorest communities.
There's no simple roadmap to forging these partnerships.
"It's really a shift in mindset for both the organization and the school," explained Nora Niedzielski-Eichner, the executive director of the New York State After-school Network, which has written a guidebook for building school-community partnerships.
But ensuring that schools and outside providers have compatible norms, principles, and beliefs is key, according to a 2014 report by the Oakland-based Partnership for Children and Youth.
"When we asked them [the schools and community providers], 'What do you think is the most important role of a school district or of a system in building this collaboration?' it was more about values," said Jessica Gunderson, the policy director of the Partnership. "Things such as trust and relationships and a shared sense of student success were first and foremost."
Even when schools and their community partners share goals, approaches can vary widely—sometimes by design and sometimes by personality.
Lois Lee brings both intensity and personality to the after-school program at John Bowne Elementary, also known as P.S. 20, in the Queens borough of New York. Ms. Lee has directed the program since the Chinese-American Planning Council, or CPC, started it 28 years ago.
There were only two after-school classes that first year. Now there are 12 classes, 180 children, and two teachers per room.
Bowne is supersized for an elementary school, with 1,400 students in kindergarten through 5th grade. Nearly all are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, a loose proxy for living in a low-income family. More than one-third are English-learners and 72 percent are Asian or Pacific Islanders.
Ms. Lee whisks visitors on a fast-paced tour through after-school classrooms and computer labs where students are working on science projects, learning the basics of engineering, and sitting in a circle for group reading. In the auditorium, a small troupe of students rehearses a ribbon dance that they're scheduled to perform at a local senior center.
Marshall Trager, who is by day a kindergarten teacher at another school in Queens, has been doing test prep for the state English composition exam with his 3rd grade after-school class at CPC. He said the students' classroom teacher at P.S. 20 asked him to work with them on writing essays. Many of his students are first-generation Asian-Americans and their parents don't know English well enough to help them study.
Ms. Lee has made it a priority to create a high-quality, academically oriented program with certified teachers. Every CPC teacher has a bachelor's degree; most have a master's. And unlike the average after-school worker—who views the job as "short-term," according to a 2001 University of Chicago study—CPC's teachers and staff members tend to stick around for years.
"I think the school really grew to appreciate the work that we've done. In the beginning, it wasn't that easy. Over time, we proved our value here," said Ms. Lee. This year, for instance, CPC projected that 95 percent of its students would be promoted to the next grade. It turned out to be 99 percent. The program also seems to benefit English-language learners; 45 percent of ELL students in CPC tested out into general education compared to 25 percent of the nonparticipating ELLs.
CPC also provides translators for back-to-school night and parent-teacher conferences. CPC teachers can participate in teacher professional development at Bowne.
Similarly, Ms. Lee serves on the school leadership and school safety teams and takes part in the school's annual self-evaluation.
"Her staff is considered my staff, and my staff is considered her staff," said P.S. 20 Principal Victoria Hart.
Despite their different organizational cultures, schools and the local groups that run after-school programs are learning to collaborate to improve opportunities for disadvantaged students. Join this webinar to find how they do it.
CPC also has an office in the school. Ms. Hart said whenever a child in the after-school program is having difficulty during the day, all the principal has to do is walk across the hall to figure out a joint effort to help the student.
Takeover in Lawrence
Hundreds of miles north of New York City, in Lawrence, Mass., a few of the 280 Parthum Elementary School students drying off after a midday swimming lesson at the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence, had never been in a pool until two years ago.
That's when the state took over the district because of its persistently under-performing schools, brought in a superintendent with broad non-negotiable powers and, as part of a turnaround strategy, added 200–300 hours a year to elementary and middle schools.
Parthum set aside almost half the time—2½ hours per week—for enrichment activities and partnered with the Boys and Girls Club. Every Wednesday, 3rd and 4th graders get a box lunch and a bus ride to the club where they can play lacrosse or flag football, learn digital arts, take up the drums or choose from 10 other activities.
The younger children stay at the school, and enrichment partners, such as the Girl Scouts, come to them. Teachers use that block of time for professional development.
"Historically, the partners in the Lawrence Public Schools were kept at arm's length, they weren't really invited in, they weren't welcomed," said Superintendent Jeffrey Riley. "It was a change for them when we came in to say, 'You know what, we actually need you guys, can you come help us?' "
The logistics were complicated, particularly reconfiguring the bus schedule.
"We took the time, about a year, to plan and to get our ducks in a row," he added.
A partnership council continues to meet every other month to iron out the big kinks, but other aspects of collaboration need more work, said Markus Fischer, the executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence. He'd like to see some joint staff meetings and training sessions.
"We have talked about this," said Mr. Fischer. "It hasn't happened yet, but if you really want to fine-tune things and synchronize things in a more-effective way, that would make sense."
Vol. 34, Issue 32, Page 8Published in Print: June 3, 2015, as Ties Deepening Between Schools, After-School Providers