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Cincinnati Finds an Extra Month of School Beneficial

Next month, more than 1,350 Cincinnati at-risk students will spend an extra month in school, in the district's third annual Fifth Quarter summer extended-learning program, which has proved to reduce summer learning loss and ease students' transition into the next grade level.

The program, which was initiated by schools Superintendent Mary Ronan to help promote turnaround in underperforming schools, was just profiled in a report from the Coalition for Community Schools, part of the Institute for Educational Leadership, which helps facilitate community partnerships with schools around the country to provide enhanced educational opportunities.

Cincinnati schools are all included in a Community Learning Center Initiative. Roughly 40 similar initiatives nationwide support 4,000 to 5,000 schools, which create symbiotic relationships between school sites and the neighborhoods where they are located, sharing resources for educational, social, and cultural experiences for students and the community, according to the coalition.

Marked as underperforming by the Ohio education department in the early 2000s, Cincinnati is now the only urban district in Ohio to be rated "effective" by the state education department, Rebecca Kelley, vice president of community services at the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati, one of the community partners, told EdWeek.

"Summer learning, like after-school, provides students with engaging opportunities that capture students' imaginations and allow them more time to explore," said Kelley. "The Fifth Quarter's addition two years ago to Cincinnati public schools' long-standing Community Learning Center initiative continues to support the ascent of the district's effectiveness."

The community partnerships have been essential in implementing the Fifth Quarter program and other student enrichment opportunities throughout the summer by providing funding, resources, and enrichment opportunities. In the "Fifth Quarter," students spend the same hours "in school" that they would during the traditional school year, but the day includes more of a blend between straight academic lessons (morning) and academic-enrichment activities (afternoon). Some 60 community partners work directly with the schools during the month, offering many experiences the students don't have during the traditional school year: art and music classes, environmental education lessons, leadership-development programming, and service-learning projects, among others.

Starting last year, the Fifth Quarter program began teaching students material from the next grade level with their new teachers to help them make the transition into their new grade in the fall. After-school programs are still provided during the month, with many of the after-school instructors working with the students during the Fifth Quarter "school day" as well as later in the afternoon to improve alignment between the two programs.

Last year, about 50 percent of eligible students enrolled, 1,700 students more than Cincinnati's traditional summer school program's enrollment two years ago, which only offered remediation on the past school year's academic classes. This year the program will be offered at at least 16 of the district's schools, all Title I, which mostly serve kindergartners through 8th graders.

The Fifth Quarter program has been supported by a combination of public (federal, state, local) and private (community) funding streams. This year, due to public funding cuts, the program was forced to make some reductions but is still accepting enrollments.

"In tough fiscal times, the partnership approach on which the Fifth Quarter and community schools are built is the way to go if students are to have access to the summer learning experience they need," according to the Coalition for Community Schools report. "The Fifth Quarter demonstrates the power of partnerships to respond to a school system's needs, in this case, moving Cincinnati's students beyond the traditional school year to succeed."

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