New Videos Show How Afterschool Fills Hours of Opportunity

Kids today spend 80 percent of their waking hours outside of school. In our field, we think of that time as “hours of opportunity”—hours in which kids can potentially be engaged in enrichment, team-building activities, meaningful adult mentorships, and more.

Yet for many kids, the hours outside of school are a missed opportunity. Only 15 percent of school-age children participate in after-school programs, with children from higher-income families participating at twice the rate of children in poverty.

Afterschool: Hours of OpportunityTwo new videos from The Wallace Foundation show how high-quality after-school programs can help fill gaps in opportunity. Featuring leaders of after-school programs and school districts around the country, Afterschool: Hours of Opportunity illustrates how programs help kids forge relationships with peers and educators, improve their behavior and academic performance, and motivate them to stay connected to school—a crucial ingredient for students who feel disengaged. These programs aren’t restricted to a specific time and place; they can happen before school, over the summer, or as part of an expanded learning day.

What can interested communities do to ensure they meet high standards of quality and offer access to the greatest number of students? A second video, Better Together: Boosting Afterschool by Building Citywide Systems, explains the key elements of building a citywide after-school system—a coordinated effort among service providers, public agencies, funders, and schools that helps stretch dollars, serve more youth, and improve quality. School and after-school data systems that can “talk” to one another, for example, or a mayor who champions the cause, can go a long way toward ensuring that programs meet the needs of a community and reach more students.

You can read about one mayor’s efforts to build an out-of-school time system in Madison, WI, in an earlier post.

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Summer Learning in Boston: Making it Fun, Making it Count

We’ve been hearing a lot this summer about retooled programs that are making learning fun for kids while combating the summer slide. Across the country, in cities from Jacksonville, Fla., to Oakland, CA, public school districts are partnering with nonprofit organizations to offer their students rich programming that combines rigorous academics with enrichment such as arts, outdoor exploration, and vocational experiences.

Last week CBASS had the chance to visit one such program. Thompson Island, located in Boston’s harbor and managed by the Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center, is home to a variety of outdoor adventure and experiential learning programs for youth—including one participant in Boston’s Summer Learning Project. A collaborative initiative between Boston Public Schools, the Boston Opportunity Agenda, and Boston After School and Beyond, the Summer Learning Project draws on the resources of schools and community organizations to offer k-12 students opportunities to increase their academic achievement as well as build valuable skills for school and career success.

Boston Summer Learning Project students and their counselors exploring Thompson Island.

Boston Summer Learning Project students and their counselors exploring Thompson Island.

What does summer learning look like in Boston? Well, for rising fourth-graders on Thompson Island, it includes a ferry ride, team building, and hands-on science learning. The day begins at 9 am, when school buses drop students off at the dock to be greeted by Boston Public Schools teachers and Outward Bound facilitators and ferried over to the island. As at all Summer Learning Project sites, students spend mornings buckling down on math and reading in classrooms, but in the afternoons they’re outdoors, working to balance as a group on a teeter-totter in the woods, or exploring the island with rangers from the National Park Service. The latter is particularly popular. With a diverse environment that includes bluffs, intertidal zones, and salt marshes, “every little ecosystem becomes a learning place,” says Arthur Pearson, president and CEO of Thompson Island Outward Bound.

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Digital Badges and the 21st Century Resume

Guest post by Michael Braithwaite

Communications skills, team work, design, chess champ, social media mastery, and competitive bocce ball: It might sound like a strange list of job qualifications, but as companies increasingly seek out employees who can accomplish a wide range of tasks across a growing number of technologies, all the while being a team player, they’re looking for skills and experiences that paint a more holistic picture of an applicant. Gone are the days of employees working solo on repetitive, finite tasks. Today’s workplace is constantly changing, built on rapidly evolving technology and often spanning multiple countries. It requires good communicators, fast and creative thinkers, and flexibility.

That’s where digital badges come in. A bit like supercharged merit badges, digital badges are emerging as a new angle on credentialing, redefining how learning is recognized in a digital age that requires a broad range of skills, passion, and diversity of experience.

Hub alum Bryan Norato during a White House Google+ Hangout.

Hub alum Bryan Norato during a White House Google+ Hangout.

Or at least, that’s what the White House thinks. Last Thursday, the Office of Science Technology Policy hosted a “We the Geeks” Google+ Hangout that was broadcast nationally and discussed the current use of digital badges and their potential to redefine not only the professional landscape, but the educational one as well.

Bryan Norato, University of Rhode Island freshman and alumni of the Hub—a credit-bearing after-school system for high school youth in Providence—helped shed some light on the subject of digital badges in a conversation with Erin Knight, Senior Director of Learning & Badges at the Mozilla Foundation; Connie Yowell, Director of Education for U.S. Programs at the MacArthur Foundation; and Richard Culatta, Acting Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the Department of Education.

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