Opinion
Student Well-Being Commentary

‘Expanded Learning Opportunities': Re-Branding ‘After School’ for the 21st Century

By Robert Stonehill & Fritz Edelstein — February 04, 2009 4 min read

For more than 10 years, the label “after-school program” has been used to describe a wide range of educational and noneducational experiences that occur before and after the school day, beyond the school week and year, and not always in formal educational facilities. This term has been useful in building support for the much-needed expansion of academic and enrichment activities that complement the increasingly limited curriculum offered during the regular school day.

It is time to change the brand name to better capture the expansion and evolution of experiences now being offered. After school no longer adequately describes the depth and breadth; in fact, it no longer even correctly captures the time and place. In essence, the field has outgrown the term as it has matured and diversified, and a new brand for its offerings can better capture the expanded universe of activities, experiences, opportunities, partners, and programs.

The change is also needed to better characterize the comprehensive nature of this 21st-century movement that embraces educational, social, behavioral, artistic, and health goals. A new brand will clearly signal broader horizons than is implied by “after school.” While some may want to continue to use after school in the titles of their programs, activities, or organizations, we believe it is time to propose a more comprehensive term of art to replace “after school” as the accepted name for this rapidly expanding field, particularly as new concepts emerge about how time and learning can be re-engineered to better support children.

As a result of the explosive growth of the U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, after school became the widely used label that encompassed everything not during the school day, including before-school, summer, and weekend programs. The term itself has its nonstandard variants: afterschool (the style of choice for the Afterschool Alliance), after-school (as in the After-School Corp. in New York), and after school (used by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s After School All Stars program). Regardless of the preferred form, the term may have lost its currency, as did the phrase “school-age child care” before it, as a term-of-art that captures the nuances of a movement no longer defined by the 3 p.m.-to-6 p.m. time frame.

Even as different organizations adopted varying incarnations of the after-school label, other organizations used different terms. Competing phrases have included “out-of-school time,” “supplementary education,” “extended learning time,” “supplemental educational services,” “enrichment programs,” “extended school,” “extracurricular activities,” “youth development,” and “smart education systems.” But again, none of these terms conveys how profoundly the boundaries between school and community learning and development have shifted. And, in particular, they don’t readily portray the ways in which activities such as civic volunteerism, service learning, career training, apprenticeships, and internships are dramatically expanding the venues in which older students are engaged.

As one of the largest supporters of after-school and school and community partnership initiatives, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, in its “A New Day for Learning” report, has suggested that all the strategies described above may fit comfortably under one tactical umbrella. So what could this umbrella be called?

We believe the phrase “expanded learning opportunities” best describes and defines the new brand. We like expanded because it captures the breadth of programs, experiences, and choices available now and in the future. “Extended,” a close rival, implies the notion of just more school. We like learning as a reminder why these programs have gained so much traction, and because it defines the purpose of the effort. This also fits into acquisition of 21st-century skills and the collaborative effort of schools, community, business, and other stakeholders to ensure high academic achievement through staying in school. And we like opportunities because it defines the vision of a variety of diverse ways to engage students, whether these occur in a school, in another educational facility, or in the community. Of course, we would suggest using simply “ELO,” to keep the tradition of creating acronyms for new initiatives and programs.

The new brand of Expanded Learning Opportunities makes it easier to envision the extent of the activities and options that are being offered before or after school; during school hours through internships, independent study, or college-based dual-enrollment programs; through service-learning and community-services projects such as Habitat for Humanity; or by enrolling students in a summer enrichment program in an effort to keep them in school and graduating on time.

Expanded Learning Opportunities is optimistic; it is a noun, not an adjective. It defines the maturity and growth of the field; it is a phrase that truly brands the wide array of choices available to all students to enhance their learning and developmental experiences. It is the next generation that will link school-focused reform efforts to child-focused systems of support.

In this time of political and social transformation, Expanded Learning Opportunities captures a vision of growth, change, improvement, and broadened engagement without constraining when or where the activity will occur. ELO defines a new era of experiences for students to enhance their chance to engage and succeed. This new name signals a program that will take us not just to after the school day, but beyond school as we have known it.

A version of this article appeared in the February 11, 2009 edition of Education Week

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