Report Release and Panel Discussion on Scaling Expanded Learning Opportunities for Teens

On Tuesday May 24th, Boston After School & Beyond partnered with the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy to release a report, entitled Beyond School Walls: Earning Credit for Expanded Learning Opportunities. Expert panelists were on hand to discuss what successful expanded learning opportunities (ELOs) look like in practice and to discuss implications for future expansion of this work.

This new report builds on an earlier Rennie Center publication entitled From Schooling to Learning: Leveraging Community Resources to Earn Academic Credit  and was informed by BASB’s ongoing effort to engage Boston’s wider teen-serving community by supporting high schools and their program partners in improving program quality and skill outcomes for students.

Over 180 practitioners and thought leaders were in attendance to learn more about strategies to further blend in-school experiences with community-based activities, encouraging innovation that can engage and empower students. Many thanks to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston for hosting us for this event.

Jill Medvedow, Ellen Matilda Poss Director of the ICA/Boston and Vice-Chair of BASB’s Board of Directors, opened the briefing by citing the institution’s great success engaging more than 4,000 students from Boston Public Schools each year. “We’re opening walls and sectors to ensure that all young people can succeed in our city,” said Medvedow.

By connecting the community to the school system, expanded learning opportunities can be incorporated seamlessly into the traditional school day and school year. Chris Smith of Boston After School & Beyond stated: “We know that work between communities and schools is challenging, but possible. A networked community is imperative for our young people to flourish.”

The briefing then proceeded with Chad d’Entremont and Nina Culbertson of the Rennie Center presenting key findings from the policy brief.  As seen in the report, the emerging research base on ELOs offers a number of recommendations and strategies for implementing credit-bearing ELOs successfully:

  • Provide professional development and resources so that participating students and educators receive sufficient support.
  • Coordinate across partners so that school-based and ELO educators can create aligned practices that build on and extend work that their colleagues are doing.
  • Reward mastery and growth over standardized proficiency to offer students a more individualized way of learning.
  • Align pathways with higher education so that ELO models can support students and help them enter college ready to learn at a higher level.
  • Incorporate continuous evaluation into ELO programs to continually monitor progress, track learning outcomes, and refine practices.

An esteemed panel of experts representing the state, schools, higher education, and community organizations offered insights into successful partnerships and discussed future opportunities for ELOs. The panel was moderated by Bridget Rodriguez of the Education Redesign Lab.

ELOs have had a dramatically beneficial impact on Boston Schools like Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, which partners year-round with community-based organization Sociedad Latina. Through this partnership, students can make real-word connections by applying concepts learned in school to rich hands-on learning experiences that Sociedad Latina delivers. Kevin McCaskill, Executive Director of Madison Park, challenged partners and organizations to expand their support and to ensure that a 21st century education can be available to all students.

ELOs can also expose students to career options and show them what steps they need to take to achieve their future goals. Alexandra Oliver-Dávila, Executive Director of Sociedad Latina and Boston School Committee Member, shared the following insight: “[Through ELOs] we can really change the way we teach, having students drive learning”.

A recurring theme during the panel discussed was the idea of a twenty-first century transcript. John Drew of the University of Massachusetts Boston, commented that ELOs would be incredibly appealing to college admissions counselors, noting that ELOs give students a leg up that they can apply to their undergraduate experience.

Similarly, panelist Rachelle Engler-Bennett of the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education remarked that the credit students receive from completing ELOs can add a new dimension to a student’s transcript. “Credit today, leads to aspiration tomorrow,” affirmed Engler-Bennett.

Superintendent Tommy Chang closed the briefing by reacting to the discussion. He reiterated the importance of ELOs and the positive impact they can have on Boston students. But this will likely require a fundamental shift in how we think about the high school experience. Perhaps Chang summarized it best: “Expanding school credit is a place where we may need disruptive change, rather than incremental shifts.”