In Susan Frey's recent article on EdSource, also picked up by the Oakland Tribune, Contra Costa Times, and The Hechinger Report, Citizen Schools' Expanded Learning Time (ELT) partnership with a middle school in Oakland, CA, is highlighted as a model that works. Elmhurst Community Prep's principal, Kilian Betlach, describes his vision to close the opportunity gap for low-income students by bringing a variety of experiences to life. Partnering with Citizen Schools is a powerful alternative to traditional after-school programs, he says, because it allows him to create an integrated longer school day filled with academic support and enrichment like apprenticeships:
Rodzhaney Sledge, dressed in the light-blue school uniform, is new to the school as a 6th grader, but she already understands how the after-school part of the program supports her academic work. For example, she took a class called Tools for Peace, where she learned to meditate. Meditation, she said, has helped calm her so she can focus on academics. She also appreciates the help with her homework she receives for at least an hour each day.
“I don’t understand the students who have problems staying after school until 5 p.m.,” she said. “You can do your homework and don’t have to do it when you get home. You’re free.”
Betlach and community partners – primarily Citizen Schools, a national nonprofit that focuses on providing quality expanded learning programs for middle school students in low-income communities – have cobbled together federal, state, local and private funding to support the unique program...
What makes the expanded school day economically possible is the school’s reliance on AmeriCorps teaching fellows like [Ashur] Bratt. The fellows are funded by the federal government and receive special training from Citizen Schools staff on how to teach in an urban environment. They are involved in both the academic morning program and the after-school classes from 2 to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, helping to provide a seamless transition for students. The schedule also allows the regular academic teachers an hour each afternoon, from 2 to 3 p.m., to work collaboratively and plan.
In exchange, the AmeriCorps fellows will have earned their intern teaching credential at the end of their two years at Elmhurst.
Edgard Vidrio, a sixth grade history teacher who joined the Elmhurst staff this year, said he appreciates the variety of opportunities the program is offering his students...Vidrio says the young, dynamic AmeriCorps teachers develop deep relationships with their students. If a student in his class is upset, he or she will often ask to talk to one of the teaching fellows, Vidrio said...
AmeriCorps teaching fellow Jeannette Aames, who is finishing her second year and hopes to teach high school math in Oakland Unified in the fall, said teaching a math intervention class was her most rewarding experience at Elmhurst. The class of three girls and nine “rowdy boys” could not grasp the concept of negative numbers.
“Direct instruction didn’t work with them,” Aames said, requiring her to develop more hands-on approaches to teach the concept...
The students also get opportunities through Citizen Schools to participate in apprenticeships with “citizen teachers,” any adult from the broader Bay Area community who has a passion, such as robotics or radio reporting, to share with the students. The citizen teachers receive basic training on how to teach from Citizen Schools staff before they begin the after-school class.
The citizen teacher is partnered with an AmeriCorps fellow who assists the teacher with handling classroom management. At the end of the apprenticeship, the students make a presentation (called a “WOW!”) to their parents and business and community leaders, showcasing what they have learned.
In addition, local companies invite students to their offices for apprenticeship experiences. At Pandora, students learned how to make an app.
“It was a video game where you dodge fireballs,” Betlach recalled.
The positive school culture that Frey captures is the result not of a miracle education reform formula, but of a committed collaboration of human beings, caring and working really hard. The students, AmeriCorps Teaching Fellows, and teachers whose voices fill the story bring that to life better than most research briefs and infographics. We're proud every day to serve alongside Principal Betlach, Mr. Vidrio, and the rest of the ECP community, meditating, dodging fireballs, and dreaming big!
Apply to the AmeriCorps Teaching Fellowship today and you can join next year's team at ECP!