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Building quality time

Despite grim budgets, advocates see ways to provide learning opportunities all day and all year.

Photo: Charles Mostoller

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

With the School District in crisis and relentlessly cutting back, it might seem the wrong moment to focus on expanded learning time.

But in exploring the need for more time, we find examples of how schools – and in some cases whole cities – have leveraged and maximized scarce resources to serve children better.

In this edition, we detail how quality programming available to children beyond regular school hours can be hard to find and is often not aligned with the need. Due to dwindling revenue, the District itself has slashed extracurricular activities and summer school. Only the handful of Promise Academies have an extended school day – and that may disappear, absent a funding breakthrough.

On the other hand, for many charter schools, longer hours and a longer year are key to their academic program. The District requires its Renaissance turnaround charter operators to provide extended time. Some District principals also find innovative ways to keep their schools humming after hours.

But not everyone agrees on what should be done with the extra time. Extend the traditional day or give students something very different? Most agree that providing creative, hands-on activities is best, especially in neglected areas like the arts. Research is not clear on what works best in what circumstances. Most studies do agree that students benefit when they regularly attend structured, quality programs and interact with caring adults.

The city has embarked on a three-year project to “systematize” its array of afterschool activities, which are funded through varied sources and have a wide range of goals.

But beyond that, advocates are pressing for a true “community schools” model that will keep schools open from morning until night, housing services for the entire neighborhood, including health care and adult education.

This requires herculean, consistent coordination, but the benefits, other cities have found, can be great – healthy, well-rounded kids who are learning. The community schools model leverages partnerships, builds trust between schools and neighborhoods, makes better use of buildings, and maximizes revenue – all things that could help turn around a district in crisis.

About this edition

Major funding for Notebook coverage of expanded learning time was provided by the Ford Foundation, as part of a foundation initiative to support “more and better learning time” in underserved communities.

A Ford grant in 2013 provides support for independent reporting on expanded learning time issues to five local and regional education news organizations: the Notebook, Catalyst-Chicago, EdNews Colorado, EdSource (California), and Gotham Schools (New York City).

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