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Citizen Schools, ELT, & Tough Budget Times

Two staffers from the Boston-based Citizen Schools stopped by the Education Week offices today so we could chat in person about what their organization has been up to and I could get their thoughts on expanded learning generally.

As you likely know, Citizen Schools is an innovative nonprofit that works both on the after-school/summer learning front and in extended-learning-time (ELT) initiatives in schools.

Since its founding in 1995, Citizen Schools has been known primarily for partnering schools with after-school volunteers who lead hands-on learning efforts. These days, though, Citizen Schools is also looking into expanding its ELT work, Christin M. Driscoll, the group's executive director of public policy and communications, told me.

She and her colleague Stacey Gilbert noted that Citizen Schools is in the unusual position of representing both after-school and ELT—something that's become more complicated in the ongoing debate over the future of the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers program.

Driscoll said Citizen Schools looks at longer school days—the core of the ELT concept—and separate, after-school programs as "complementary," not an either/or choice. "Communities should be able to decide what works best for them."

And high-quality ELT is "a viable model," she added. "Even in tough budget times, we need to put more resources toward it."

At a time of tight budgets at the federal, state, and local levels, Driscoll and Gilbert both emphasized that the need for high-quality expanded learning goes on. But it's a tough dynamic. "The fiscal realities are no joke," Driscoll agreed.

Still, it's not time for "doom and gloom" either, she added.

Driscoll and Gilbert both noted that connecting schools with outside organizations and businesses (not just government agencies) as Citizen Schools does has a pay off.

As Gilbert put it: "A good partnership is golden."

So, my questions for today are: What kind of school-outside-organization partnerships are you aware of? Are they working? How is your school or group faring in this economy? And what changes, if any, are you making because of it? I'd love to hear from you for what could be the foundation of a great story on partnerships, the economy, and expanded learning.

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