Expanded Learning Opportunities: Community School Examples from England and Australia

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Across community schools in the United States and abroad, creative after-school, weekend, holiday and summer programs have been a natural entry point and an anchor of school-based extended services. Integrating Expanded Learning Opportunities during the regular school day requires an additional time and resource investment. Julie Chapaneri, Extended Services Coordinator for Leicester City Council in England; and Megan Barnett, Principal, and Jodie Gillan, Team Leader/Teacher, from Neerigen Brook Primary School in Perth, Western Australia discuss their or their governments’ efforts to level the playing field for all children and youth by expanding services and learning time.

Expanded Learning Opportunities in Leicester

Julie Chapaneri, Extended Services Coordinator, Leicester City Council, England, United Kingdom

In England, Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELOs) are an integral part of the Extended Service Schools strategy, which aims to minimize barriers to learning and raise attainment for all children and youth, narrowing the gap between affluent and poor. I work with state schools across two areas of Leicester; Belgrave, a predominately Asian and Black Minority area, and Beaumont Leys, which is predominantly British White. Both are areas of poverty with high unemployment and teenage pregnancy.

Schools in Leicestershire are grouped together so that they can provide a full range of out-of-school activities and childcare. Not every school is able to provide a full range of activities at its site but, by working together, the aim is to provide families with local access to a wide range of services - including support, learning opportunities and childcare before and after school. Schools have been grouped into local clusters. Each cluster contains several local primary and secondary schools.

In Belgrave and Beaumont Leys, Expanded Services and after-school activities provide a wide range of in and out of school opportunities both socially and academically for students from all backgrounds, in addition to members of the wider community, opportunities that would otherwise be inaccessible to most participants.

ELOs seek to develop, maintain and increase students’ love of lifelong learning to help them succeed academically and in life. During school time, students are required to attend classes as part of the curriculum; however, through the Extended Services strategy, students are able to choose which afterschool activities they wish to participate in, empowering them to make decisions and participate in activities that best suit their needs and aspirations.

Through a variety of enriching activities, students are exposed to key life skills including team work, listening, negotiating and communicating. They advance in areas such as complex thinking skills, language development (reading, writing and verbal), visual and performance skills, imagination, curiosity, abstraction, originality, risk-taking, knowledge-base and leadership ability. Through these enrichment activities, academic and attendance goals have been achieved and maintained, and students have increased their self-esteem and self-confidence.

Activities include the arts (music, dance, poetry, creative writing, theatre, acting and debating), sports, community-based experiences and special activities such as canoeing, fencing, archery, boating rock climbing, aerial trekking, fencing, archery, orienteering and circus skills.

Lack of funding and changes in recent government policies are hindering the delivery of these programs. This is a challenge that coordinators and schools are facing in the United Kingdom at present. However, the need for extended services is imperative and is nationally recognised. We are currently working closely with schools and in partnership with agencies to strengthen delivery and to ensure sustainability for the future.

EXPANDED LEARNING PROGRAM AT NEERIGEN BROOK PRIMARY SCHOOL PERTH – WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Megan Barnett, Principal, and Jodie Gillan, Team Leader/Teacher

 

Neerigen Brook Primary opened in 1970 with the vision of “All Different, All Equal.” Since 2007, with the help of several key partners, we have had an operational Full-Service Program, which offers in-school services for students and their families including dental health, relief help, adult education, preventive programs, and volunteer and mentoring opportunities. Lead partners collaborated in the design of the strategy, and an evaluation process is currently underway.

Our Full Service aim is that the strategy can be coordinated, utilized and sustained to meet the needs of all members of the school community. Our philosophy is to work from a strengths-based approach, to identify the positive resources and abilities that families have to contribute to their children’s educational engagement and development. This model is considered by its proponents in Armadale to contribute to the resilience of the local community and the coping strategies of its families.

Our school is situated in a low socioeconomic area where learning is not a high priority and homework is not always assisted by families due to competing realities they face. Therefore, engaging parents in their children’s education is a crucial whole-school strategy. It is imperative that parents understand the importance of reading, for instance, not only as a decoding tool but as a life-long strategy to support their children’s future. We want our parents to understand that reading is critical to their child’s academic and life success.

As an incentive to participation, we developed a school-wide Parent Passport Program. Parents join a passport scheme and earn 10 points for every hour in which they work in student-based or school-based activities such as mentoring, school council meetings, parents meetings, attending play groups, cooking volunteer and helping in the uniform shop or parent-run canteen. Earned points can be redeemed for monopoly money (every 10 points equals 1 hour which equals $1.00.) This money can be used at the canteen, for excursions, or at the school uniform shop. Through this program, parents have become part of their children’s schooling during and after-school as well as at home.

The Parents Passport Program connects to the Extended Learning Program through our Scholar Dollar Club. The club aims to build the capacity of our parents in assisting their children with literacy and numeracy skills. To kick off the program, a group of teachers worked after school to improve students’ spelling and reading sight words. However, after a visit to Children’s Aid Society schools in New York, this idea began to grow, with a focus on expanding learning opportunities through a variety of strategies.

The Scholar Dollar Club has been running now for seven weeks, supervised by several highly motivated and engaged parents. They monitor attendance and homework, provide a healthy snack, and reward the Scholar Dollars while helping as many students as possible. After a healthy snack the students work on homework with the help and tutoring of parent mentors and volunteers. A core component of the homework program is the Read and Spell activities.

Students earn one Scholar Dollar for each completed homework assignment. This money is given to them in the form of a Neerigen Scholar Dollar bank cheque. The bank cheque is exchanged by the classroom teacher for Scholar Dollars, and then redeemed in several different ways. Early Childhood students may purchase items from the Rewards Box; junior school students may purchase items from the Scholar Dollar Shop, and senior school students attend an auction where they compete and bid for different items. Parents involved in this program also earn rewards for their children through the School Passport program.

We have plans to expand extracurricular activities such as Chess Club, Art Club, Dance Club, Sport Activities, Edible Garden, and Cooking/Nutrition. In order to stay mission-focused, the clubs will be linked to literacy and numeracy, and those students who attend the homework part of the club will have first priority to attend additional clubs.

The Scholar Dollar Club benefits our students, parents and teachers. Students are supported academically, emotionally and socially. They are motivated to learn through Scholar Dollars, and given the opportunity to make good choices, increase healthy eating habits and access activities that are of interest to them. For parents, the Scholar Dollar Club is at no cost to them, they have the opportunity to become involved community members, and are financially rewarded if they engage with their own and other school children. Benefits to teachers include improved literacy and numeracy results, as well as students becoming responsible and accountable in their own learning.