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Volume XII, Number 1 & 2, Fall 2006
Issue Topic: Building and Evaluating Out-of-School Time Connections
Ask the Expert
Julie Bott reviews the strategies she and her colleagues use to link the Gardner Extended Services School's after school program with the school day.
At the Gardner Extended Services School (GESS), we integrate physical and mental health services, family support, and after school and academic enrichment services with traditional school-day programming. Throughout many changes over the years—including our upcoming transition to pilot school status—community partnerships have been critical to our programming. Our partners include the Oak Square YMCA, students and faculty from Boston College and Harvard University, the Joseph Smith Community Health Center, Children's Hospital, and the Brighton/Allston Mental Health Association.
Essential to extended services at GESS is our after school program, which serves approximately 50% of the student population. The program is composed of three components: homework support; month-long academic enrichment units aligned with school and state standards for each grade level; and recreational clubs, including physical education, performing arts, visual arts, home economics, and science and technology clubs. These activities complement the school day and reflect the after school program's mission and vision—that learning can be fun, engaging, and meaningful.
Facilitating continuity and intentional linkages between school-day and after school programs is one of the things GESS does very well. There are four facets to our linkage strategy:
1. Thinking strategically about staffing. Every lead teacher in our after school program has a role in the daytime program, either as a paraprofessional, parent coordinator, or extended-day teacher. Many directly support instruction in school-day classrooms (e.g., facilitating reading groups) and use that experience to inform their after school work. Many after school staff members attend common planning periods with teachers. Extended-services staff and administrators participate in all school-based committees.
Our newly appointed parent coordinator, who is culturally reflective of our population, serves as a critical liaison between the school, after school program, and parent community. She has both daytime hours, so that she can work with classroom teachers, and after school hours, so that she can communicate with and provide resources directly to parents.
2. Employing effective communication systems. We have instituted several mechanisms for facilitating intentional conversations and information-sharing among staff and between staff and our other partners. After school teachers use Homework Completion Logs to communicate with daytime teachers about specific students. Additionally, the school resource team, which consists of all internal and external partners, convenes monthly to discuss the implementation and coordination of all extended services.
3. Aligning the after school curriculum with school standards and instruction. Over the past year, we have intentionally and strategically developed an after school curriculum aligned with the school-day curriculum and the Massachusetts standards at each grade level. We are launching this curriculum in fall 2006. Also, we use simplified Individual Education Plans to align information regarding student performance, expectations, modifications, and accommodations across school-day and after school programs.
4. Implementing professional development. After school staff can benefit from the same professional development opportunities as school-day faculty. Our paraprofessionals attend workshops with the daytime teachers. In our grant-funded literacy coaching program, a school literacy coach models and reinforces best practices for after school teachers, while at a 2-day training institute in the fall, school-day faculty and professional development specialists will facilitate workshops with after school staff on behavior management, child development, parent and family engagement, and academic instruction.
Data and evaluation play an important role in ensuring alignment between our programs and in ensuring that we provide effective services. The school resource team uses formative assessments, taken three times a year, to identify student needs and gaps in specific content areas to inform the after school curriculum. Parent surveys—which assess what workshops parents would like to attend, what they identify as their and their children's greatest needs, and their suggestions for supporting families—also inform our programming.
Another way we use data is to assess the effectiveness of our services. Student assessments throughout the year track individual growth. By mapping this information onto after school attendance rates, we have found evidence of differences in academic performance between students who attend the after school program regularly and those who do not. Regular attendees are not sliding backwards academically, as their peers often do. One challenge in evaluating an extended-service school is identifying which specific service contributes to differences in student performance. We are currently working on strategies to address this challenge, including looking at whole-school trends in performance.
Recently, we have partnered with an external evaluator who is extracting lessons from our after school program and developing tools that can be used for the implementation of other 21st CCLC programs. These resources will enable us to share information about our program and construct new strategies for strengthening the alignment between school-day and after school programs.
Director of Extended Services
Gardner Extended Services School
30 Athol St.
Allston, MA, 02135
Tel: 617-635-8365 ext. 105