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Afterschool Partnerships Promote Common Core Rigor and Relevance

The afterschool hours are invaluable time for students to develop the knowledge and skills they need for the interconnected world and to meet the Common Core. Here, Ken Anthony from the Connecticut After School Network shares how his state has approached this opportunity, and some advice for others looking to do the same.

by Ken Anthony

With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) upon us, there is no greater time to reassess the partnerships between schools, afterschool, and expanded learning opportunities within the community. These programs can create linkages to real-world experiences for students and enable them to put classroom learning into context. This directly relates to the expectations of the CCSS, particularly the standards that challenge students to look at the issues through multiple perspectives.

In order for our students to harness the full potential of the CCSS, they need to be able to think globally. This is a critical component as the jobs and interactions they will have require a higher level of cultural competence. Rather than emphasizing the academic standards outlined in the CCSS, the CT After School Network's work thus far has been to support and train programs with identifying concepts and activities associated with the Habits of Mind (HoM) for math and literacy that work in concert with the academic standards of the CCSS.

The HoM are a set of skills that are necessary for life and work success and also promote academic skills development; emphasizing the HoM in out-of-school time allows programs to continue focusing on youth development outcomes while also supporting the schools' implementation of the CCSS. In order to jointly promote students' academic skills and develop their HoM, programs and schools must have an effective partnership, clear communication strategies, and share academic resources. Partners should be able to articulate the sense and breadth of partnership, communication, and sharing of academic resources (websites, lesson plans, etc.) between each partner with a local and global mindset.

Global learning should not be an additional set of activities. To integrate global concepts successfully, community- and school-based educators need to think deeply about partnership framework, communication, and academic resources. One protocol, developed by Dr. Tracy Bennett, Director of Action Research at THINK Together in Santa Ana, CA, calls for open dialogue focused on student-centered learning. It allows for community connections to the larger world that add relevance to afterschool programs that also complement the rigor of the classroom.

In her (still unpublished) doctoral research at the University of California at Irvine, Bennett (2013) found that afterschool programs that aligned school and afterschool objectives reported a greater sense of partnership, communication, and sharing of academic resources. This collaboration between the school and afterschool program resulted in gains in their students' standardized tests. This alignment allows schools and the community to be on the same page academically, socially, and emotionally. Conversely, schools that did not have this alignment showed that students did worse on these same tests.

How can a community align their in-school and out-of-school objectives?

It all begins with relationship. Are there regular meetings that seek to align school, community, and business goals? These conversations could open the way for meaningful partnerships that otherwise may not have occurred. There could be a small business that is not connected to the school or out-of-school time (OST) program, but has a multi-million dollar global market. Students would be able to learn about the world by researching the countries with which the companies do business. Are there differences in currency around the world? Are there cultural and civic differences? Meaningful partnerships and effective communication can make this possible.

Go beyond the daily check-in. The school principal and program site coordinator, as well as the lead teaching teams within the grades, should communicate regularly and frequently to create seamless learning for students. For instance, there are many educational resources that school and community providers use, however the cross-pollination of ideas and concepts are rarely shared between the school and OST partners. Increase this type of communication for the benefit of all students.

Adopt an experiential curriculum. Consider implementing common instructional themes—such as climate change, media censorship, and current issues facing students locally and globally—between formal and informal settings. Sharing academic resources allows a rigorous curriculum that transcends instructional time and focuses on integrated learning experiences anywhere, anytime. When sharing academic resources between the school-based teaching teams and community partners, students could receive the best both parties have to offer.

How to integrate global learning into programs through partnerships
Over the past two years, the Connecticut After School Network has worked alongside colleagues at the Connecticut State Department of Education, with LEAs, and community-based agencies to create joint professional development that examines the Common Core State Standards, Habits of Mind, and global competency.

A document that grew out of that work, Meeting the Common Core through Global Learning: What Afterschool Programs Can Do, allows educators to see the HoM and the Asia Society's Graduation Portfolio System (GPS) side by side.

The GPS has four pillars: Investigate the World, Recognize Perspectives, Communicate Ideas, and Take Action. Each of these resonates within the Habits of Mind. Within the GPS, there is a unique opportunity for afterschool and expanded learning programs to play a key role in strengthening core skills and global awareness. The "take action" component encourages students to become involved locally, regionally, or globally and to have an understanding of their role in civic responsibility. This could be done through internships and career exploration, service learning projects or community service.

One example is at the COOP High School afterschool program in New Haven. This magnet school for performing arts offers sessions in students' affinity areas in which they may not be majoring. Two years ago, through a partnership with Yale University (who helps oversee the program), students were able to work alongside visiting artist Felice Varini from Paris. His work includes geometric perspective-localized paintings. He was commissioned to do a mural in the neighboring Schubert Theatre stairwell. Students from the program worked with Varini on this project, gaining a global perspective from him. The service learning experiences in the program also allowed them to experience the world outside of the classroom, recognize the different perspectives of the artist compared to others, communicate ideas about the work using the HoM, and take action in creating it.

Though the program runs afterschool, there is a seamlessness that helps in creating the synergy that expands the potential for student learning. The relationship between the school and afterschool program illustrates the potential for sharing of academic resources, communication, and partnership. Over the past two years, the program has enrolled between 40 - 50% of the more than 300 students attending the school. The COOP formula of connecting the learning from the classroom and into the community has created a program that has been recognized on the local and state level.

As educators, we must meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century with the aspiration of deepening the understanding and role children and youth play—and will play—in our global society. Through effective partnerships, communication, and sharing of academic resources that integrate global learning and Common Core benchmarks, students will learn about and experience the larger world around them.

Strengthening relationships, forging and deepening partnerships, and getting out of our own frame of reference is essential for the greater good of our students and our economic and workforce future.

Useful resources:

Ken Anthony is director of professional development for the Connecticut After School Network. Follow CT After School Network and Asia Society on Twitter.

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