Students today need more ways to learn so they are prepared for college and career. But the young people who most need additional learning opportunities are least likely to have them. Every Hour Counts, formerly the Collaborative for Building After-School Systems, is a coalition of citywide organizations that increase access to quality learning opportunities, particularly for underserved students. Our approach — called an expanded-learning system — coordinates the work of service providers, public agencies, funders, and schools, so dollars stretch farther and more young people are served. The result: students with better attendance, grades, and test scores; stronger work habits; and more positive social behaviors.
Expanded-Learning Systems: More Important than Ever
Today we expect more of our students and graduates than ever before. Not only are academic expectations rising, but also employers say they want more emphasis on critical thinking, complex problem solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge in real-world settings.
With ever-increasing expectations, it’s not surprising that schools struggle to squeeze everything — academics as well as social and emotional skills — into a six-hour day. So where and when do students learn these skills?
Learning has to continue outside of school, with music lessons, sports, academic support, and other activities. Unfortunately, students from underserved communities, who typically have the greatest need for additional enrichment, are least likely to get it. They also are less likely to know about the world around them — that they live a mile from the ocean, can visit their city’s museums, and are welcome to walk through a nearby college campus.
Expanded-learning systems fill these critical gaps. Expanded learning teaches students about academics, collaboration, and problem solving. They not only learn how to do better in school, they find new ways to ignite their passions — and to engage in learning and life.
Expanded learning also leads to measurable results. A decade of research and evaluation studies, as well as large-scale, rigorously conducted meta analyses, indicate that young people who participate in after-school programs benefit in terms of academic performance, social and emotional learning, prevention, and health and wellness. They have improved school attendance; higher graduation rates; lower dropout rates; stronger academic performance; and improved positive behaviors, work habits, and persistence.
Yet despite these benefits, more than 18 million young people in America lack access to high-quality after-school programs. In most cases, families’ income levels shape their options. Affluent families typically spend close to $8,900 per child each year on enrichment, compared to families in the lowest income quintile, who spend slightly more than $1,300 per child each year.
With ever-squeezed budgets, cities and communities must make sure every dollar is used effectively. Expanded-learning systems maximize city and private funding, and programs typically are delivered at little or no cost to families.