After 3pm: Four Square, Coding and Place Based Learning. New Opportunities (and Challenges) in Expanded Learning
It’s 3:00pm at the end of a long school day and the students are spent. They are done with bell- to-bell non-stop academics. It’s time to socialize, play together, and grow. If we’re lucky, it’s time to catch them up on some missed lessons. After-school and summer enrichment programs vary greatly in the opportunities they offer our K-6 students, and are hugely important for students and communities.
California is a huge state with a wide range of socio-economic realities. Some after-school programs offer our students a place to get tutoring help and a jumpstart on their homework. Other programs are less academically geared and offer room to run, laugh and build relationships. Many merge the two styles, with all activities important to student growth.
After talking with hundreds of district administrators, STEM and ASES leads, science consultants, teachers and paraeducators, we have heard daily that most are overwhelmed by expectations in our new reality. Luckily, financial help is on the way. Assembly Bill 130, the Expanded Learning Opportunities Program, (or ELO-P) allocates grants of $4.6 billion to California schools over the next four years.
Challenges described by California educators range from new academic expectations addressing COVID learning loss to problems with unfulfilled educational product procurement (due to supply chain issues). Another challenge is hiring and retaining after school and summer school paraeducators (paraprofessionals, instructional assistant, educational assistant, camp counselors, etc). With these increased program funds, they are being asked to do more than traditional child care.
“In this moment when the state and federal government are about to invest billions of dollars in expanded learning as part of COVID recovery and rebuilding, it is absolutely essential that we pay attention to the vast body of research and experience in this field to guide investments,”
-Jennifer Peck, president and CEO of Partnership for Children and Youth
According to the California Department of Education, ELO-P provides funding for after-school and summer school enrichment programs with a focus on local educational agencies who serve the highest concentration of disadvantaged students - specifically, English language learners and students categorically eligible for free or reduced lunches. These districts have the highest needs, the largest estimated entitlements, and often experience the greatest challenge to find paraeducators.
The growth and new focus of ELO-P has its challenges for educators, but we also see opportunities. It’s an opportunity to teach our children in a collaborative and fun environment, while supporting their natural inquisitiveness. One example is using recyclable, reusable, durable products that are made in the USA, which teach our children the importance of domestic manufacturing (especially during supply chain challenges and global instability).
“… Expanded learning programs offer an outstanding opportunity for children to dig into STEM subjects, to roll up their sleeves and learn vital skills, and become excited about STEM topics.”
- Dr. Gregory Washington Dean of the UCI Samueli School of Engineering
Expanded learning educators have the unique opportunity to encourage students to feel empowered ownership of their learning due to the less structured environment. At the same time, programs benefit from educational products with easy to follow curricula and strong professional development opportunities. It’s okay for students to have a productive struggle and for facilitators to learn and find out answers along with them.
ELO-P also presents the right time to invest in your educators with strong professional development and empower them with the tools they need to be successful, both in after school programs and the standard academic day. Programs that offer pre-college credit for your teachers and students are a bonus as they create a supportive environment that encourages higher education, and in many cases offer educators opportunities through step and lane compensation increases districts offer them.
It’s important to support multilingual products to teach and learn from, as access and equity is crucial and beneficial to all. Products whose core experience is deeper than a specific language, and that enforce concepts common to every language - mathematics, spatial reasoning, use of tools, collaboration and design thinking - are especially effective at fostering inclusion and diversity.
Piper Learning offers a range of affordable, engaging STEM products with all of the attributes outlined above - made in the USA, durable, multilingual products that allow students to experience engineering, electronics, coding, design thinking while collaborating with fellow students. They include easy to follow curricula and professional development for educators. Through the UC San Diego Extension program, we also offer pre-college credits for students and facilitators who complete Piper programs. We think they’re a good fit for all Extended Learning programs, especially ELO-P, and we look forward to exploring how we can support yours.
At Piper, we salute all ELO-P participants, and are excited to see the opportunities these programs can provide for California’s students. There is a lot to learn in the next four years. But look how far we’ve come.---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sue Warhaftig is the Vice President of Sales at Piper Learning, Inc., a California company that’s deeply committed to STEM education and equity. Visit us at playpiper.com
Collaborate to Innovate Advance Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards Through K-12 and Expanded Learning Program Partnerships, written by NGSS Work Group of the CAN STEM Committee,
Experts discuss status, future of expanded learning, California School Boards Association Blog, May 10th 2021
Resources for funding After School Programs:
Expanded Learning Opportunities Program (California Department of Education)
After School Education and Safety program (California Department of Education)
Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE)