OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: Expanded Learning Opportunities instructor Andrew Oesch, an artist-educator at the RISD Museum of Arts, leads students from the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex in an activity as part of the RISD Museum’s Art and Design Lab ELO program.
As technical coordinator for the Providence After School Alliance’s The Hub and as owner of Codery, a Web startup in the city, she sees firsthand both the need for Rhode Island youths to fill their free time with productive endeavors and for businesses to help build employable skills within the student population.
So she was happy to sign on to PASA’s official pilot program for its Expanded Learning Opportunities project, which gives participating students graduation-applicable credits for out-of-classroom work experience.
“We need Web developers. Web development, as it’s being used, is not being taught in schools,” Lemoie said. “I thought of it as an opportunity to be able to teach these students actual employable skills but also soft skills [such as] resourcefulness and determination; skills I think are important for anybody to learn.”
The Expanded Learning Opportunities program in December marked its second semester of pairing students at the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex in Providence with a dozen local organizations and businesses.
The spring 2012 pilot matched 32 students. The fall 2012 program matched 50.
Now the project is looking to expand its reach again, moving to an additional three Providence high schools within the next year, including Alvarez High School.
“I think it’s been highly successful [but] it’s not perfect yet,” said Damian Ewens, director of high school initiatives for the Providence After School Alliance. “This work is part of a much larger conversation on how and where and when learning happens. Building programs that students are interested in is the critical piece.”
The R.I. Department of Education updated its basic-education program to require that school districts create expanded-learning policies in July 2010.
The Providence After School Alliance said districts were left to design on their own how those programs would work.
So far there are credit-bearing programs established in Providence, Woonsocket and Central Falls, and all three were in development before the department of education gave its order.
“I think a lot of communities don’t have an intermediary like PASA that can help manage partnerships,” Ewens said. “Schools themselves typically don’t have the internal support to really make sure those relationships are sustainable.”
All three school districts received $15,000 in planning grants in October 2009.
Woonsocket High School teamed with RiverzEdge Arts Project and Central Falls High School paired with the Square Mile Community Coalition.
The Providence After School Alliance was teamed with the Providence School Department.
Woonsocket and Central Falls in September 2010 each received an $80,000 grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation that instituted the projects for that school year. Providence received an additional $15,000 to work toward last spring’s official pilot launch.
“We’re seeing a broad array of students. You are getting some kids who are super involved and taking it because they want to, but we’re seeing a total mix,” Ewens said. “We do some training on [office] expectations and dress. They’re learning real skills.”
Gerri Lallo, an instructional coach at Juanita Sanchez, who formerly was a Providence teacher for 16 years, said the students are benefiting from being able to put the experience on college applications and resumes.
She also said that students are coming out of the program with improved communication, critical thinking and citizenship skills.
“It’s so outside the box of their regular school day that they’re really hungry for these great, applicable learning experiences,” Lallo said. •