By ANN RICHARDS
- Good afterschool programs extend classroom learning
- Afterschool offers alternative paths to learning
- New Web site: Expanding Learning a resource for schools and educators
When Joe Davis was a young teacher in Tallahassee, Florida, he often stayed after school to grade papers or finish lesson plans — and his classroom quickly became a hangout for students with no place to go. Searching for ways to keep them entertained, Davis resorted to using suggestions for extracurricular work that appeared in the margins of his teacher’s textbooks. “I never had the time to use those ideas during the school day,” he said. “But the kids really responded to those activities.” Now Chief Operating Officer for the Florida Afterschool Network, the former Chief of the Bureau of Family and Community Outreach at the Florida Department of Education has assumed the role of national spokesperson for the Expanded Learning and Afterschool Project, a new Mott-funded initiative designed to help spread the use of high-quality afterschool programming to districts across the country.
High quality after school programs accelerate student achievement. Click to expand (PDF).
Mott: You’ve been involved with the afterschool movement since you were a classroom teacher. What prompted you to build a career in this area of education?
My career evolved quite by accident. I was planning to go to law school, but I took a year off after college and started substitute teaching to earn some money. I ended up as a long-term substitute, teaching English at middle school — and it was a blast. I was offered a permanent teaching position and spent five years as an EH (emotional handicapped classroom) teacher for 22 sixth, seventh and eighth-grade students. During my ten years of teaching middle-school kids — I also taught history in a regular classroom — I realized how afterschool programs fueled my creativity as a teacher and how that kind of learning connected with the kids.
In too many districts, we let our middle-school students out at three o’clock with no place to go. It’s a travesty, really. Good afterschool programs make a teacher’s day easier. Not only can they extend classroom learning — without the pressure of tests — but they help the school make positive connections with students. When I took a job at the Florida Department of Education, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program. I soon realized the significance of the impact of that program on over 65,000 Florida students every year. I was also able to apply what I learned through my own afterschool activities to shape what was being done at the state level. Leaving the Department of Education to become the COO of the Florida Afterschool Network has only intensified my commitment.
Mott: Why do you believe quality afterschool programs extend and expand learning?
Davis: I have to go back to my days of teaching, when I saw how differently students responded to academic subjects in the afterschool environment. My social studies class was reading a historical fiction novel about the American Civil War. Borrowing from a suggestion in a teacher’s textbook to assign a student a character from a novel and write additional lines and scenes for them, I decided to use that afterschool. My students loved it. The book came alive for them. From writing the new scenes we went to acting the scenes — and none of those activities cost me anything more than time and imagination.
I think fun and enjoyment is a critical part of high-quality afterschool programming. Nothing is more discouraging than visiting an afterschool program that is just used as a holding pen for kids.
Mott: In this era of tight budgets, why should districts consider afterschool programs an essential part of the academic day?
Davis: Good programming after school makes teaching easier and learning easier. And now we have research confirming what most teachers know intuitively — high-quality afterschool programming has a positive impact on the academic performance, attendance and behavior of students.
Funding for afterschool is a tough problem for a lot of districts. But if you can provide a safe space for kids after school, a place where they have opportunities to grow socially and emotionally, there’s no reason why you can’t take that next step and make it educationally relevant. Even with tight budgets, schools can tap community resources, recruit volunteers from local colleges or service organizations and experiment with flexible teaching schedules. It’s always a surprise to see how well kids will respond to classroom material when it’s presented in a different light, with a little less formality than during the school day.
There’s a lot to be gained through an investment in afterschool. It’s tough, but superintendents and principals have to ask themselves how existing budgets can be leveraged so that afterschool space can be made available and learning can be incorporated into even the most simple, low-cost activities.
Mott: You’ve agreed to serve as a spokesperson for the new Expanded Learning and Afterschool Project, funded by the Mott, Noyce and Packard foundations. Tell us a little more about the purpose of this initiative.
Davis: Right now, we’re trying to leverage technology to get research and information about effective afterschool programs into the hands of interested parties — any organization, school district, educator or administrator interested in starting a program or improving an existing program.
Our Web site, www.expandinglearning.org, hosts some great new research by Joseph Durlak (Loyola University Chicago) and Roger Weissberg (University of Illinois at Chicago) that underscores the link between high-quality programs and student achievement.
Expandinglearning.org is the starting point. How people use the site will help determine the type of information and technical assistance we offer and how it will be delivered. We are hopeful that the contacts made through the Web site will help grow local programs and build our base of best practices in afterschool.