Bringing Expanded Learning Systems from Idea to Action

140 people. 25 communities from around the country… and the world with one team hailing from Brazil! One big goal: to build expanded learning systems that increase students’ access to high-quality learning opportunities and equip them with the skills and knowledge they need to thrive.

In March, we hosted “From Idea to Action: An Institute for Building Expanded-Learning Systems,” a two-day event where community leaders gathered to discuss the essential elements of expanded-learning systems. We kicked off the meeting with city leaders distilling their system-building work into six-word stories:

  • Communicate, coordinate, collaborate for youth. Repeat.
  • Quality is the thread we’re connected by.
  • A plan, need partners, please help.
City teams discuss system-building challenges

City teams discuss system-building challenges

Our Every Hour Counts partners presented workshops focused on the themes of sustainability, and data. Our new Institute Summary shares the system-building strategies, best practices, and challenges that were discussed. Here are a few insights from the report:

  • Core Elements of Building a System: High-quality expanded learning systems share five core elements:
    • A coordinating entity and committed leadership;
    • High-quality age-appropriate activities;
    • School and community partnerships;
    • Quality standards and assessment tools connected to continuous improvement;
    • A participation tracking system.

Many systems, when just getting off the ground, also share a common staging process:

  1. Engage in a planning effort linked to long-term policy goals;
  2. Find a home. It could be at a non-profit, a city agency, or the library system;
  3. Design a model;
  4. Reach consensus on quality standards, and the assessment tools to measure them;
  5. Analyze data to drive improvement.
  • Forging School and Community Partnerships: Lasting relationships with a school system are essential to help an intermediary achieve its goals and sustain progress over the long haul. For example, in 2012 the Family League of Baltimore implemented a new strategy that combined the city’s Community Schools program with out-of-school-time programs. This alignment allows the Family League to share data between the school day and after-school, plan after-school activities in partnership with school day teachers, and implement joint planning between school day and out of-school-time leaders. With tighter connections between schools and after-school providers, fewer children fall through the cracks.
  • Data Sharing: In Nashville, the school system and the Nashville After Zone Alliance sought ways to identify the students who were at risk of dropping out. By sharing data on student outcomes and coordinating efforts between schools, expanded learning providers, and other community service providers, the city increased the odds that students have the supports they need to graduate and succeed. Data-driven decision-making increases efficiency, as people, resources, and time are not wasted and services can be tailored to student needs. A major lesson from NAZA’s experience was that data systems consist not just of technology, but also of the people and processes that analyze the data and give it meaning. Establishing a shared vision for the outcomes that the data sharing will achieve is the first step. Intermediaries should establish strong relationships with the school district and other important decision-makers and develop clear processes for how all parties will work together. Once all parties have a shared vision of the “big picture,” it’s easier to dig into the weeds on data.

Read more in the report here, and learn about the experience of King County, Washington at our Institute here.

Stay tuned for details on our next institute in Summer 2016!

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