Looking back over the two decades…
that I’ve had the privilege of being part of the grand experiment of developing expanded learning opportunities for millions of America’s most vulnerable children, I believe we’re in the process of co-creating a future that can and will make a bigger difference than any of us could have imagined. The rate of change is accelerating. The breadth and depth of knowledge is greater than ever. And the willingness to move to the next level is increasingly evident. The time is right to build on what’s working and go confidently in the direction of our dreams!
Learning is more real, relevant and student-driven
By adopting project-based learning approaches, programs are providing an increasing number of students with opportunities to apply what they’re being taught during the school day in real-life settings. This is making it more likely than ever that they will strengthen their communication, collaboration and problem solving skills; be able to express themselves more creatively; and enable them to acquire new knowledge on their own.
Preliminary results show that children and young people are becoming more confident in their abilities, more eager to find solutions to increasingly complex problems and more excited about transferring what they learn to their everyday lives.
I recently spent an afternoon with students in a science project at The Center for Expanded Learning Program in Sacramento where students were engaged in an aeronautics challenge. This wasn’t a one-off activity.
Over time, they developed plans, calculated the cost of purchasing materials, constructed prototypes, tested them, reflected on what worked and what didn’t and worked together to make improvements.
Not surprisingly, they were eager, motivated, excited and acquiring skills that can last a lifetime.
Students are much more actively engaged and collaborative
We all know that active learning is hands-on and minds-on, and much more. It’s not about doing just any thing, it’s about doing the right things for the right reasons. Programs that are increasingly realizing that learning-by-doing builds the capacity of children and young people to succeed in school and in life. They also know when students learn to work well together everyone benefits.
Small group collaborative learning helps kids develop their social-emotional skills, build and maintain positive relationships and become more caring, compassionate and empathetic. These aren’t so-called soft-skills – they are essential 21st Century skills. And it matters. Sharing ideas, learning from each other and respecting each other’s contributions are qualities that count.
Taking this approach is making a difference in ProYouth’s Expanded Learning Program in California’s Central Valley and many other programs where children co-author professionally illustrated WRiTE Brain Books and become published authors. These kids understand the importance of working together to achieve common goals and set instant gratification aside for the satisfaction of completing projects than matter to them and their peers.
Students are becoming healthy, fit and ready to learn
One of the biggest changes is the shift from programs offering independent, intermittent activities to adopting comprehensive approaches that actually change students’ attitudes and behavior. Thanks largely to the Center for Collaborative Solutions’ Healthy Behaviors Initiative, which I’ve had the privilege of co-leading since 2004, hundreds of programs are increasing students’ physical activity levels, improving their eating habits and strengthening their food security (having enough healthy food to eat every day).
They’re doing this because they know that changing lives can also save lives. One in every two children living in poverty in America is likely to acquire Type 2 diabetes. They know, as I discussed in a recent Huffington Post interview, that one in five students are too hungry to learn during the school day. A World Fit for Kids! in Los Angeles is ensuring that kids really are healthy, fit and ready to learn. Let’s follow their lead!
Moving to the next level – together!
I believe that programs throughout the United States are poised to make an even greater difference in the lives of children and young people. I know from 26 years of experience in working with hundreds of leadership teams, site staff, and their partners and communities that the time is right to take advantage of an unprecedented opportunity to fulfill our dream and co-create the future! Let’s get started!
For breakfast I had yogurt, blueberries, granola and coffee.
Author Profile: @andriaf