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AFT Releases 'How-To' Manual on Expanded Learning Time

12/08/2014

Lessons learned from a successful initiative to expand learning time at schools in Meriden, Conn., can help other unions work with districts to significantly increase opportunities for at-risk students, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said today.

The AFT released a handbook, "It's About Time: Lessons from Expanded Learning Time in Meriden, Conn.," that explains how three elementary schools' use of time was redesigned. The manual provides suggestions and advice for educators and school officials interested in both expanded learning time for students and more collaboration time for teachers. The Meriden initiative has been supported over the past three years with grants from the AFT Innovation Fund, as well as federal and state funding. The work is part of a larger effort to expand learning time in Connecticut, with assistance from the National Center on Time & Learning, a Boston-based nonprofit organization.

Weingarten noted that people tend to associate expanded learning time with charter schools, but the Meriden model shows it can be done in traditional public schools. In Meriden, teachers' schedules are staggered, and community partners play a key role in providing a rich array of activities for students. In these schools, 100 minutes were added each day for enrichment programs such as fitness, multicultural arts, multicultural literacy, woodworking, technology and engineering, science and math, as well as academic intervention.

"The Meriden experience shows that innovation and flexibility stem from true labor-management-community collaboration," Weingarten said. "It takes support, resources, respect and time."

While the initiative is still new—two schools expanded their learning day in the 2012-13 school year, with the third coming on board in fall 2014—the district points to several signs of success. In addition to significant math and reading growth, average daily attendance has improved to 98 percent, and virtually all students think their teachers motivate them to learn and are fair and caring. Teachers, meanwhile, feel a stronger sense of community as professionals and enjoy more opportunities to work together to plan lessons.

The handbook discusses key considerations for planning an effective expanded learning time program, strategies for effective scheduling, how to work with community partners and more. One of the important lessons noted in the handbook is the need for regular evaluations and midcourse corrections as warranted.

"It's really a soup-to-nuts account of how we did what we did," said Erin Benham, president of the Meriden Federation of Teachers. "Meriden teachers wanted more time to collaborate to help their students. By re-engineering the school day at three schools, they have created a strong sense of collaboration and community."

Mark Benigni, the superintendent of Meriden Public Schools, has been a champion of the work from the start. "Our students are excited to come to school and experience all of the offerings that the longer and more flexible day offers. It's really a strong example of the power of a district, a teachers union and outside support coming together to take a bold idea and make it a reality for students and teachers," Benigni said

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