Reimagining the Learning Day, Connecting to the Future
A gateway city, Chelsea, MA suffers from a high school dropout rate triple that of the state average with its middle schools already struggling to meet the proficiency rates for the state.
By reimagining the learning day, Citizens Schools is intent on closing the opportunity and achievement gap for at-risk students at Chelsea’s Joseph Browne Middle School. The national non-profit is clear-eyed on its vision to provide an extra three hours a day of inspired, engaging experiences that connect learning to the future. By focusing on the entire 7th grade (152 students), Citizen Schools capitalizes on a critical development period, effectively setting students on a trajectory to high school, college, career, and community leadership through its Expanded Learning Time (ELT) model.
At the heart is Citizen Schools’ signature apprenticeship programs. Passionate AmeriCorps members and aspiring educators are joined by community volunteers called “Citizen Teachers” to mentor high-need students through semester-long hands-on projects. These teachers and partner instructors inspire and introduce middle school students to new fields, and related careers. Over half of all apprenticeships are in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
In addition to apprenticeships, Citizen Schools provides academic support in math or English Language Arts and helps students set goals and devise action plans. They also organize high school application support, college visits, and other field trips.
Over 20 years, the Citizen Schools ELT model has generated enthusiasm among educators and community leaders intent on “educating children, strengthening communities” and instilling the belief that success is indeed attainable.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Citizen Schools
Digital Tools Power Student Learning, Teacher Practices, and Parental Engagement
Research shows that middle school can be a challenging time when students begin to falter in academic achievement. For high poverty schools, the challenge to produce successful learners is even more pronounced. Students struggle with mastering Common Core standards and STEM subjects, social and emotional learning, and the 21st century skills needed to succeed.
Through a multi-pronged approach to digital learning, PowerMyLearning — a nonprofit that leverages technology to strengthen learning relationships — is helping students in low-income communities, together with their teachers and families, harness innovation to improve educational outcomes.
An APNF grant will enable students in a high-need L.A. middle school to join more than 16 partner schools in Greater Los Angeles and power their mastery of learning. PowerMyLearning’s three-pronged strategy consists of: school-wide, comprehensive programs and services to help students increase their classroom effort and ownership over their learning; intensive coaching for teachers to enhance their instructional practices and develop effective personalized learning environments; and bilingual evening workshops for parents, designed to build confidence in helping their children learn at home and plan for the future. Integral to the national organization’s work is its online, personalized learning platform, PowerMyLearning Connect, which offers 5,000 of the best digital learning activities on the Web. The free platform has been adopted in more than 40% of public schools nationwide.
Through innovative programming that brings together each part of a school community, PowerMyLearning is accelerating teacher innovation and strengthening the home-school connection. In a recent national study, students at PowerMyLearning’s partner schools increased their math proficiency seven percentage points higher than students at comparable schools. Their unique school partnership model is proving its impact on high student achievement – while fostering noticeable professional growth in teachers and in families as supportive partners, a proven booster for academic success.
Photo Credit: PowerMyLearning, Inc.
Middle School Teacher Training to Meet Next Generation Science Standards
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) sets the science education bar for what students should know as they prepare for college, career, and citizenship. However, this potentially transformative vision for science education can achieve little without teacher training to support both mastery of new content areas and considerable shifts in instructional classroom practice to inquiry-based learning.
This challenge is all the more daunting for teachers working in socio-economically diverse middle schools in east San José, an area with a significant percentage of residents living in poverty. In this community, science is marginalized amid intense pressure to improve test scores in reading and math – particularly in the absence of resources to support hands-on investigation.
An APNF grant is helping to launch San José State University’s NGSS Implementation Collaborative (NIC) in partnership with the Silicon Valley Education Foundation (SVEF). This 12-month effort directly supports more than 20 local public middle school teachers and their 1,000 middle school students. The collaboration builds upon the successes of the university’s Bay Area Environmental STEM Institute, a year-round professional development program which has been serving teachers since 1990; and the Green Ninja Project, a 2014 winner of SVEF’s STEM Innovation Awards. This educational project inspires young people to learn how to fight climate change through social media and hands-on learning experiences by following the adventures of the climate action super hero Green Ninja.
A four-day NIC summer institute of learner-centered instruction for teachers will blend science concepts with pedagogy through investigation of the NGSS-aligned Story-Science-Solution, a middle school learning sequence centered on climate change. In-person and online follow-up throughout the academic year will support implementation of materials modeled during the summer institute, helping teachers embrace California’s required transition to NGSS.
Photo Credit: Huong Cheng
From Classroom to Career
Imagine having a dream that one day you aspire to be an astronaut. A teacher. A ballet dancer. A doctor. A top chef. An architect. But every day you wake up from your dream only to find that reality hits and hits hard – a challenging home life, foregoing after-school sports to babysit a sibling whose diapers need changing, having to piece together dinner while the head of the single family household is juggling two jobs that lead late into the night. And you are the tender age of 11 or 12 at most.
Enter Spark, a unique program that makes meaningful matches between underserved middle school students at risk of dropping out, and local working professionals for a tailored, personalized apprenticeship that gives these youth a shot at success in high school and beyond. From architecture to zoology, Spark connects students with positive role models who mentor them in career fields that align with their interests and build skills through hands-on activities and projects. In the 2013-14 school year alone, Spark increased enrollment by 50 percent to reach nearly 1,000 students across four metropolitan regions, building a bridge to a brighter future.
APNF is pleased to continue its support for Spark Chicago and in 2013, added a grant to Spark San Francisco Bay Area. No doubt we have seen Spark become a life-changing milestone in the lives of youth in some of the most underserved neighborhoods across the country. From perhaps being on the brink of dropping out of school one day, these Spark students explore professions based on their interests and strengths. After 10 years and thousands of apprenticeships, the results speak for themselves. Spark students consistently gain a newfound confidence, essential life skills, positive relationships with caring professionals, and a graduation rate significantly above the national average.
Photo Credit: Spark