It’s 4 p.m. at Hilton Elementary School in West Baltimore—well after the end of the traditional school day—but the school is buzzing. In one room, kids are hunkered down over chess boards; down the hall, some students are practicing karate kicks while others are playing lacrosse under the eye of a former star collegiate player. By the time they leave for home, these students will have had three extra hours in the school day: an hour of classroom instruction, an hour devoted to cultural or recreational activities, help with homework, and a healthy snack and supper.
“At OSI-Baltimore we know we really need to connect kids firmly to school. One way to do that is to have enriching activities throughout the school day,” says Jane Sundius, director of the Education and Youth Development Program at OSI-Baltimore. “We want kids from families living in poverty to have the same opportunities to engage in things like art, music, social studies and physical education as kids from more affluent families.”
The longer school day at Hilton is part of the national ExpandED Schools initiative, a community-based approach to extending the learning day developed by TASC, The After-School Corporation, a New York City nonprofit. With major support from Open Society Foundations, six ExpandED Schools opened last fall—three in Baltimore and three in New Orleans—building on a successful pilot in New York.
In the ExpandED Schools approach, a school partners with a high-caliber community-based organization to create a school day that is roughly three hours longer. In this model, the community partner works hand-in-hand with the school team to reimagine the school day and ensure that activities that generally take place after the usual 3 p.m. closing time are integrated into the entire school day.
“Our children spend over a month less in school than children in South Korea every year. That’s no way to prepare them to compete in the 21st-century economy,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in support of the ExpandED Schools launch late last year. “Expanding learning time can accelerate student achievement, particularly in high-poverty schools where students don’t always have as much outside support or resources.”