Extended Learning Opportunities at Grant Beacon Middle School
nlike many schools in Denver, the student body at Grant Beacon Middle School (GBMS) bears little resemblance to the school’s surrounding community. The school’s neighboring streets are lined with local restaurants and shops, and are inhabited predominantly by young middle class families. Inside the school, however, the student body (grades 6 – 8) resembles little of the prosperity found just beyond the school’s walls. More than 85% of GBMS’s 478 students qualify for free and reduced lunch, while nearly half are English language learners. “If you look at this neighborhood, you’d think we serve a completely different population of students,” says Alex Magaña, GBMS’s principal.
However, the school’s performance mirrors that of many schools in more affluent communities: Based on student performance on the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP), the state’s standardized test, GBMS was recognized by Denver Public Schools as a high performing school in 2013, and the median student growth at GBMS exceeded that of the median growth at both the district and state. In fact, the school exhibited the highest growth in reading and math among all Denver public middle schools. These impressive gains have generated greater interest in GBMS among parents not just within the community, but throughout Denver as well. “In past years, our incoming sixth-grade class would average about 150 students,” says Michelle Saab, the school’s Extended Learning Opportunities (ELO) Coordinator and also one of its Deans of Students, “but this year we took 189 students because of the demand from parents. We’ve even had to hire an additional staff person.”
That has not always been the story of GBMS. As recently as 2011, the school’s reputation and student achievement stood in stark contrast to today’s high growth and high demand among parents. Only four years ago, the school was looking for ways to improve student achievement, while parents were looking to send their children elsewhere. “We were only showing modest growth,” remembers Magaña. “We were having problems with enrollment, and then a charter school opened up near us. We were worried
U Grant Beacon Middle School (At a Glance)
6 – 8
Number of Students
Low Income %
Length of Student Day
7:30 – 4:00 (M – R)
10:00 – 4:00 (F)
P a g e | 2
that we might be closed. We knew we had to do something, or something was going to be done to us. We had to create a brand, raise achievement, and build interest in our school.”
Creating the Innovation Plan
In 2011, Magaña knew that the types of changes needed at GBMS would necessitate flexibilities—such as staffing, budget, and scheduling—that are not typically available to district schools. One such change Magaña considered was the expansion of the school day. “One of the most impressionable articles I’d read was about the Clarence Edwards Middle School in Boston,” recalls Magaña. “Their schedule was longer on Mondays through Thursdays, and they shortened Fridays for students, which allowed teachers to meet. I kept going back to the idea and when I presented it to the staff, they loved it.” Staff welcomed the potential of a longer school day not only for additional collaboration time, but also because many were already staying after school. “A lot of our kids were behind,” says Magaña. “So we had a lot of our teachers tutoring after school. And we also had enrichments going on after school on Fridays. So I proposed the longer day to everyone as, ‘Hey, if we can find a way to include all of those things within the school day, we can pay you for the work you’re already doing.’”
To gain new autonomies—such as the lengthening the school day—Magaña organized a team of the school’s administrators, teachers, community partners, and parents to share ideas, visit schools, gather input, and ultimately submit a plan to gain innovation status1. Michelle Saab, then the school’s Community Engagement Coordinator, recalls the work that went into developing the innovation plan, which took place in 2011. “We visited other schools. We surveyed students, teachers, parents, and community members. We met with outside organizations. Then we met as a team every two weeks to talk about what we wanted our school to become.”
Throughout the process, Magaña ensured that various stakeholders’ voices were heard, and also that the team’s progress and next steps were communicated. Jen Kent, the school’s Literacy Facilitator, was new to the school in 2011. She remembers the amount of input she and her colleagues were able to provide, as well as the amount of information she was given. “I wasn’t involved in the writing of the innovation plan, but they constantly kept me updated. Members of that team would always be coming
1 In 2008, Colorado passed the Innovation Schools Act, which affords schools additional flexibilities and autonomies upon approval of an innovation plan by the school’s local board of education. Each innovation plan includes descriptions into the ways that schools will implement new innovations in the following areas: educational services, personnel, and budgeting.
Sample Seventh-grade Student Schedule
P a g e | 3
to me with details on the plan, and asking me what I thought.” These conversations both provided insight into the school’s new direction and raised important questions. Magaña remembers the conversations that he and his team had with many of the school’s staff. “Our teachers were mostly on board with what we were proposing. The biggest question for them was the longer day. They’d ask ‘What classes are we going to offer?’ ‘Can we keep class sizes down for these new classes?’ or ‘How much are we going to be paid for this?’”
Input into the innovation plan came not just from school staff. Parents and community members also had suggestions for the new direction of the school. “When we talked to parents,” remembers Saab, “a lot of them wanted us to look at their child holistically. It wasn’t just doing well on TCAP, but also providing more enrichment and socio-emotional development.” Eventually, the voices of teachers, parents, and other stakeholders were captured in GBMS’s mission statement that hangs in the entrance of the school today. ‘Through the integration of technology and collaborative work of students, staff, families, and community partners, Grant Beacon Middle School will bring together its neighborhoods’ diverse communities and prepare students with the academic knowledge and 21st century leadership skills necessary for college and career success.’ That mission, along with the innovation plan, is implemented through three school-wide approaches: blended learning, student leadership/character development, and community- and teacher-led extended learning opportunities. The latter strategy is enabled by a longer, 8.5 hour school day (7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.) for all students Mondays through Thursdays, with the last hour on those days devoted to a period of extended learning opportunities (ELO) that is staffed by a mix of GBMS teachers and community partner organizations.
ELO Course Offerings
Each year, the school offers approximately 60 courses—covering topics such as academic supports, arts, athletics, humanities, student leadership, STEM, and wellness—during the ELO period, which takes place Mondays to Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.; enrichments are not offered on Fridays, during which the school operates a shortened schedule. Each enrichment course is led by a teacher or an outside provider, with class sizes typically ranging between 15 and 20 students. The catalogue of enrichment courses at GBMS varies throughout each of the school year’s four quarters, with a greater emphasis on academic supports in quarters 2 and 3. Variation among enrichment courses also occurs within the week, as the school shifts between two enrichment schedules: one schedule on Mondays and Wednesdays and another on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Before the start of each quarter, students review the school’s list of enrichment options and identify their top three choices for Mondays and Wednesdays and their top three choices for Tuesdays and Thursdays.
With the exception of academic supports and sports, ELO courses at the school typically focus on collaborative hands-on projects. On a typical day, GBMS students are immersed in a variety of enrichment courses in every classroom during the last hour of the school day.
In the computer lab, the enrichment is led by Open World Learning (OWL), one of the school’s outside providers. During this time, OWL staff member Katie Frank helps students create their own movies, first by taking them through the writing process and then by showing them ways to access online tools to add in visual elements to turn a story into a movie.
P a g e | 4
Upstairs from the lab, Judie Wurm’s seventh-grade social studies classroom transforms into an art studio for her enrichment class. The 12 students in this class huddle around various tables as they design stained glass windows that will be framed throughout the school. In the front of the room, Wurm helps a pair of students trace the outline of the Denver skyline while another group of students begins to cut different colored glass for their windows.
Down the hallway from Wurm’s classroom, 12 students build model airplanes in an aerospace enrichment led by Liz Kailey, a volunteer and parent to one of the school’s alumni. Throughout her class, she circulates the room to answer questions, offer encouragement, and share engineering principles that should be considered in the construction of their planes.
Kailey uses Jeff Kurtz’s eight grade science classroom for her aerospace enrichment, which takes place Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Mondays and Wednesdays, Kurtz is in his classroom leading his own STEM enrichment course for 15 students. Like the students in Wurm’s glass, they too are crowded over tables as they glue Popsicle sticks together to build bridges. In two weeks, the class will hold a competition to determine which bridge can sustain the most weight. This project is one of three separate three-week projects that students will participate in throughout the quarter. In talking about his class, Kurtz is describing the structure of many of the school’s other enrichment courses as well. “This is really meant to focus on project-based investigative learning. The students are really here to learn from one another, and I’m here only to give some directions and help when they’re stuck on something.”
In addition to these enrichment offerings, the school’s reading and math teachers also deliver academic supports in their content areas during the ELO period. Unlike enrichment courses and advanced academic courses, students are chosen for academic supports by their teachers, and placed only with their grade level peers. For students placed into academic supports, these classes are not meant to reteach concepts covered in reading and math courses, but rather to address individuals’ skill gaps. As a result, the curricula—Reading Plus in English and Math 180 in math—used in the academic support periods differ from those used in reading and math core content classes. “We decided on Reading Plus and Math 180 for a few reasons,” says Jen Kent. “First, we wanted to ensure consistency. Second, we didn’t want to put too much more work in planning and developing new materials on our teachers. Third, these programs [Reading Plus and Math 180] help us monitor the progress of students.”
The number of students selected for these supports varies each quarter. However, the number of students placed into these classes is typically highest in quarters 2 and 3, in preparation for state standardized tests. No student is ever placed into one academic support in any quarter (i.e. no student is ever in academic support Mondays through Thursdays), leaving every student at GBMS with at least one chosen course for ELO every quarter. Before each quarter, the English and math teams meet to identify students for academic support. “I meet with literacy teachers to make sure that they’re selecting a good pool of students for each quarter and each teacher only teaches the kids that they have in their own class,” explains Jen Kent, the school’s Literacy Facilitator. “We look at three pieces of data to choose students for intervention. One is TCAP from the prior year. The second is math and literacy interim assessments. And the third is their performance in class.” While decisions around student placement are based upon achievement data, teachers do not always assign the lowest performing students to
P a g e | 5
academic supports. “We’ve had a philosophical debate internally about whether to pull the most intensive needs kids and realized we have to be really careful,” explains Kent. “Our original plan with ELO was to engage kids. So with each individual student, we ask ourselves, ‘Will the benefit of this academic intervention outweigh the benefit of the engagement they would gain from another enrichment class?’ In the end, we typically pick kids who are more on the cusp of reaching proficiency.”
Although academic supports differ from enrichment offerings in many respects, these two types of courses also share a number of similarities. Specifically, many of the academic supports also incorporate elements of student collaboration that take place in other enrichment courses. Meanwhile, enrichment courses often reinforce academic concepts, such as the emphasis on writing in Katie Frank’s OWL enrichment course or the application of physics in Jeff Kurtz’s STEM enrichment course. “Whether it’s intervention, dance, African drum, or financial math, the hour we devote to ELO is meant to be engaging,” explains Saab. “The classes are supposed to be a little more fun. Teachers and students can both unwind a little bit, while still staying focused on learning.”
In addition to enrichment courses and academic supports, a third type of offering during ELO is the school’s sports teams. With the longer day, students are in school until 4 p.m., compared to 2:30 p.m. at most other Denver public middle schools against whom GBMS sports teams compete. “When we decided to add more time for ELO,” recalls Alex Magaña, “one reason we decided to schedule it at the last hour of the day was to allow our students to participate in sports. That was necessary from a scheduling perspective, but it also provided students with more options, which helped to keep our class sizes low for ELO. Also, we could use some of the funds we’d set aside for sports instead of finding money elsewhere to bring in other providers.” Since 2012, when athletics became a part of the ELO offerings, the school has experienced a surge in participants across many of its sports teams. “Before we had ELO,” remembers Michelle Saab, “only about 10% of our students went out for sports. Now we have 60 students trying out for football and another 75 for volleyball. We’ve had to create a separate sixth- grade volleyball team. More than ever before, our students are getting exercise, working in teams, and taking more pride in our school.”
Benefits of ELO
Increased participation in sports is just one of ELO’s many benefits cited by the school’s staff and staff from partner organizations. “ELO has really given a lot of our kids a boost in self-confidence,” says Alex Magaña. “They’re interacting with new people—whether it’s one of our providers or students in other grades—and making a lot of new connections.” These new opportunities and relationships have resulted in higher student engagement, according to Jeff Kurtz, the school’s eighth-grade science teacher. “Our kids love coming to school now because they get to showcase their strengths and interests in a lot of different ways.” Laura Danielson, the school’s seventh-grade reading teacher, agrees. “I think the
Weekly Student and Teacher ELO Schedules
P a g e | 6
students are more excited about coming to school. They get an opportunity to take part in things that a lot of schools don’t offer.” High student engagement is consistent across enrichment offerings, including those led by partner organizations. “We’ve had kids who like our class so much that they take it in sixth- grade and repeat it until they’re in the eighth-grade,” says Maia Stone, whose organization, Mind Spark, leads a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) enrichment course at GBMS. “That’s been really great for our program because those kids have now taken on leadership roles, and now act as mentors to the current group of sixth-grade students.”
In addition to increased engagement, staff also point to the academic supports as one reason that student achievement has outpaced the city’s other middle schools. “Academically, we believe that the time for intervention during ELO has been correlated with higher achievement,” says Saab. “The past two years [2013 and 2014], we’ve had some of the highest growth in the district.” ELO provides opportunities for teachers to work with selected students in smaller groups, with a focus on particular skill gaps. “With the smaller class sizes in the intervention,” explains Lauren Danielson, who teaches a reading academic support. “We’re able to focus more on certain students.”
The wide array of enrichment courses and academic supports has also allowed teachers to deepen relationships with students, while also connecting the school to the broader Denver community. “The atmosphere in the classrooms and the relationships you’re able to build during ELO are different from any other class,” explains Magaña. One way in which ELO has fostered relationships is the exposure to different adults as well as to students in different grades. “My enrichment class really lets me build relationships with some of my future students,” says Kurtz, “even before they come into eighth-grade.” In addition to strengthening bonds between teachers and students, Michelle Saab cites the relationships students build with partner organization staff. “I came from community work,” she explains, “and to have more adult role models from the community come in every day to get to know our students has been really great for them.” Tristan Connett, one of the school’s Deans of Students credits Saab with identifying many of these role models from high quality partner organizations. “Denver has access to a lot of different kinds of providers, and Michelle has done a great job of bringing so many of them in so that our students can learn in so many new ways.”
While students have benefited greatly from the wide array of enrichment courses and academic supports, so too have the school’s teachers. In addition to receiving a $4,000 stipend for teaching in the longer school day, the ELO period has also created additional time for teacher planning and collaboration. At GBMS, core content teachers lead enrichment/academic support courses twice each week, on Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays. For instance, Jeff Kurtz teaches a STEM enrichment course on Mondays and Wednesdays. On Tuesday, instead of teaching, he has an additional planning period. On Thursdays, he meets with the school’s other science teachers. “Having that hour every week to collaborate with the other science teachers has really put us all on the same page,” explains Kurtz. “Everything is ironed out and everything is consistent in all the science classrooms.” The weekly time for collaboration has not only helped improve communication and consistency across departments, it has also improved the ways in which GBMS teachers collaborate. Jen Kent, who leads her department’s weekly meetings, explains. “Before ELO, we might meet after school as a team, but it wasn’t very formal. Now, everything is structured. Every meeting has a set agenda. We use this time to
P a g e | 7
focus mostly on the academic program: curriculum, instruction, scope and sequence, and planning.” These weekly department meetings are in addition to weekly grade-level meetings, which take place during each grade’s elective period (e.g. Art, Band, Physical Education). “At most schools,” explains Alex Magaña, “you have to choose between giving teachers regular grade-level or department meetings. Here, we can do both. The extra time we have for collaboration has really improved instruction here, as well as the overall culture of our staff.”
The school’s expanded learning time schedule has resulted in further collaboration opportunities beyond the ELO period. With an 8.5 hour school day on Mondays through Thursdays, the school has shortened its Fridays to 6 hours for students, creating a two hour block of time (8 a.m. to 10 a.m.) for teachers to meet each Friday. Much of that time is devoted for analyzing and planning around data. “The real game changer with the longer school day has been the data team time on Fridays,” says Kent. “We use this time to talk about assessments, dive deep in to results, look at Essential Learning Goals (ELGs) aligned to common core standards, and deliver professional development on teaching to these goals. In terms of impact, this has been our sacred time.”
ELO has helped to transform the school, for both students and teachers. “My vision for ELO has always been to transform this school into a true community school,” says Saab, who had served as the school’s community and parent liaison prior to her current role as ELO Coordinator and Dean of Students. “I wanted to make sure that our students could find something that would spark their passion and provide opportunities to look at the world through different perspectives.” In creating that vision, the school has also attracted more students. “We have a brand now and we’re doing more parent outreach,” says Alex Magaña. “We can now clearly articulate all the great reasons why parents should send their child here.”
“I think one of the biggest obstacles in replicating this model is figuring out the logistics,” says Michelle Saab. “Scheduling is a major challenge. We have 480 kids with two different classes on two different days that change every quarter. Our teachers only teach ELO three out of the school year’s four quarters. On top of that, you have a whole new set of adults [outside providers] who are teaching and so you need to figure out room assignments. It’s like creating two master schedules each quarter.” At GBMS, core academic teachers teach ELO classes twice each week, with the other two days devoted to planning and collaboration. In comparison, elective teachers teach ELO all four days, due to lighter course loads throughout the earlier periods of the day. Regardless of content area, each year, every teacher has one quarter during which she/he does not teach ELO. Magaña explains, “In 2011 [the school’s first year of ELO implementation], every teacher taught ELO all four quarters. The following year, the district scaled back our funding, so now we can only afford to pay teachers to teach three quarters. Each quarter I’m without eight teachers for ELO.”
Before the start of each school year, Saab identifies which teachers will not be available for ELO each quarter. “We used to just give the first quarter off for all English teachers, and then the second quarter off for all math teachers, but we’ve moved away from that. Now, much of the decision around who is available which quarter revolves around our teachers who coach. The decision around what days they teach [Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday] is driven by the days that they have collaboration.”
P a g e | 8
After Saab has determined the roster of available teachers each quarter, she then identifies and schedules partner organizations, many of whom have led enrichment courses at GBMS. The decision to invite back previous partners is in part influenced by student surveys, which are completed at the end of each quarter. “Once I know when our teachers can teach, I’ll talk with my partners. I usually won’t get in touch with them until August 1st, because they’re not really sure of their schedules before then. I try to staff enough classes for 500 students, with class sizes between 15 and 20.”
Three weeks prior to the start of each quarter, a list of ELO courses is distributed to students to solicit their top choices. This list includes the course title, a description of the course, and a list of student characteristics that align to the course. “Students choose their classes for ELO during their advisory,” explains Saab. “They pick their top three choices for Mondays and Wednesdays and their top three choices for Tuesdays and Thursdays. This year [SY 2014-15], we also had our students take personality tests, and we’ve tried to use those to better match students up to an enrichment that they may like.” Before scheduling students in for the enrichment course(s) of their choice, Saab also collects the list of students targeted for academic supports. “I sit down with each department and they identify the students that they want for intervention,” says Saab. “I schedule those students first. Then I identify all the kids who are going out for a sport. After that, I look at everyone’s top choices and begin to schedule them. After I’ve scheduled every student into a spreadsheet, I put it all onto Infinite Campus [the district’s scheduling software]. It’s very time consuming, but it’s worth it once you see all the excitement from our kids every day.”
Supporting High Quality ELO Programming
The excitement and engagement found in ELO classrooms today is the result of three years of collaboration, reflection, and refinement. “We learn to do ELO better every year,” says Michelle Saab. “Our first year of implementation, we had all these questions, like ‘What do teachers do?’ ‘How do we get teachers on board?’” Adds Alex Magaña, “We knew that to make this work, every teacher had to stay until the end of the day and be committed to what they teach.” Early in the school’s implementation, one way in which the school sought buy-in from teachers was giving them the freedom to choose the topic they want to teach for enrichment. Some, like seventh-grade social studies teacher Judie Wurm, teach enrichment classes that align with their hobbies. Today, Wurm’s Glass and Mosaics class is one of the school’s most popular enrichment offerings. Meanwhile, other teachers collaboratively plan their enrichment offerings, such as the school’s science department. “I really wanted our department to use ELO to focus on STEM, and really bring that acronym to life,” says Jeff Kurtz, the school’s eighth-grade science teacher and lead teacher for the science department. “We meet every week as a department to talk about our STEM enrichments, to make sure everyone has the materials that they need and we’re all on the same page.” Despite the freedom to choose their enrichment topic and the additional stipend for the longer day, a number of teachers were unwilling or unable to teach a longer day. “We had over 95% approval from our staff for our innovation plan, but that left a couple people who just couldn’t stay until 4 p.m.” Magaña remembers. “We also had some teachers who did stay who didn’t do a great job with the additional time. Eventually, those people found other schools that were better fits for them, and now we’re really confident that we have strong teachers who are committed to this vision and mission.”
P a g e | 9
Of course, the success of ELO is dependent not only on an effective and committed cadre of teachers, but also on high quality programming delivered by outside providers. “Our partners are essential to achieving the vision we’d set out for ELO,” says Saab. “First, they help to make us more of a community school. Second, they bring in a lot of new expertise and resources into the building. Third, we don’t have enough teachers here to do interventions, sports, and enrichment while keeping class sizes down. Last, and maybe most importantly, they serve as great models for our students.” Each year, the school invites back partner organizations that deliver high quality courses, based on student surveys and also quarterly walk-throughs conducted by Magaña and Saab. Of course, in 2011, the school was without this information to select partners. Alex Magaña remembers the search for partners before the school’s first year of ELO implementation. “Our first year, we threw a pretty wide net to get as many partners as we can. We were just trying to get bodies in here. Knowing what we know now, we would have gotten more information on each organization and would have been a little more selective in choosing which ones were the best fits.” Today, each potential provider must first submit a Request for Proposal (RFP) to be approved by the school, including information on logistics (e.g. contact information, budget, availability, space/storage needs) as well as programming (e.g. number of students served, learning goals, and a description of activities each week).
Since 2011, the school has increased not only the amount of information they’ve gathered from providers, but also the information they share with outside providers. Today, before teaching their first class at GBMS, each provider receives the school’s partner handbook, a 7-page document that provides basic information on the school, such as the school’s mission, schedules, parking, and contact information, along with student guidelines and rules during the ELO period. “The partner handbook tells you everything about the school and the way things are done here,” says Liz Kailey, a parent volunteer who leads an enrichment course. “It tells me what is expected of students and what to do if someone is misbehaving.” The partner handbook is just one way that the school prepares providers to teach at GBMS. “We also do a one-hour orientation,” says Saab. “It’s a good way for us to go over the handbook in person, show them around the building, and get them a little more comfortable being here.”
While the handbook and orientation are intended to prepare providers to teach, the school also frequently communicates with providers once they are in the classroom. As the primary point of contact for outside organizations, Saab maintains frequent contact with providers throughout the school year. “Michelle does such a great job of keeping everyone informed and updated,” says Maia Stone of Mind Spark. “Every day we come in, the school has the attendance sheets ready for us and a notebook with information on all of our kids. We’re not at the school every day, or even for the whole day, so it’s really important that we always get these updates.” Saab further
Lessons Learned from GBMS and Partner Org’s
P a g e | 10
describes her role in communicating with outside providers. “I try to be by the office every day when our providers come in just to say hi or to see if they need anything,” she says. “I also send a weekly email out to everyone, just to update them on things that are happening at the school, reminding them of days we don’t have school, and really just thanking them for being here. I think communication is one of the most important aspects of being an ELO Coordinator, because you really need to be constantly building relationships with your providers.”
Frequent communication is just one way Saab and the rest of the school’s staff continue to strengthen relationships with outside providers. “The best thing that this school does for me is just being available,” says Kailey. “More than any other school that I’ve been associated with, I know there’s always someone I can call or email with a question. And that applies to anyone at any time.” Although the school currently has few formal opportunities for outside providers and school staff to collaborate with one another, many teachers and administrators are quick to offer advice and support to their peers from outside organizations. “The school has been very helpful whenever we have any discipline issues,” says Stone. Katie Frank, another outside provider, adds, “The school is extremely communicative, especially
about behavior. Early on, I had some issues with classroom management, and Mr. Gonzalez [GBMS’s Assistant Principal] was very supportive and helpful. I also know that if there are any behavioral issues that I can’t handle on my own, I can just call the office and someone will come to help immediately. Often times, a teacher or an administrator will come by my classroom just to see what the kids are doing and see how I’m doing.” Classroom management and discipline are not the only areas in which the school supports staff from outside organizations. Katie Frank’s organization, Open World Learning, is one of two partner organizations—Goodwill is the other—that also delivers programming during the school’s elective periods throughout the school day. Consequently, Frank spends more time at GBMS in comparison to other providers, and participates in the school’s professional development sessions both during and before the school year. “I was trained on the school’s mission, vision, and priorities. One of the really useful sessions I went to before the start of the year was Ms. Tribbett’s [a New Teacher Induction Coach at Denver Public Schools] training for new teachers. That has helped me a lot this year.”
In addition to classroom support, the teachers and administrators at GBMS create an environment that welcomes outside providers. “The school treats everyone like they’re family,” says Goodwill’s Abby Drake, who, along with Katie Frank, teaches in the school’s elective periods as well as ELO. “They do celebrations every Friday and I always go to them.” Outside providers are also invited to parents’ nights, student performances, and parent-teacher conferences. The school’s emphasis on relationship building—in particular, the frequent communication, classroom supports, and inclusivity—has not always been evident. “In the second year of ELO,” remembers Magaña, “we didn’t always prioritize the importance of building relationships. We lost some providers, and even among those who stayed, I was seeing some frustrations.” In response, Magaña tabbed Saab as the school’s ELO Coordinator, who remains committed to ensuring that partners feel prepared for success and also welcome at the school. “Michelle does most of the day to day communication with our partners and knows them better than most everyone else in this building” says Magaña, “but it’s all of our jobs to make them feel welcome here and make them feel appreciated for what they do for our students.”
P a g e | 11
The Evolution of ELO
Despite the progress the school has made over the past three years, Magaña, Saab, and other staff members continue to search for ways to improve the quality of academic, athletic, and enrichment offerings at the school. In SY 2014-15, the school formed a committee dedicated to improving the quality of ELO and sustaining its effectiveness. To strengthen quality, the ELO committee is searching for additional collaboration opportunities between teachers and providers. “Our teachers are great about helping our partners and answering any questions they have,” says Saab, “but we wanted to have more opportunities for teachers and partners to share their expertise with one another. So we’re going to have a speed dating session where providers and teachers meet with one another and really talk about their ELO class.” To further collaboration, school administrators are also considering ways to integrate partner organizations into the school day, as they have done with Open World Learning and Goodwill. In addition to increasing collaboration, the committee is developing a rubric that sets clear expectations for high quality enrichment. “We’ve had a lot of conversations about what good enrichment looks like, but it’s been difficult because the topics are so different from one another,” says Jeff Kurtz. “Hopefully, this rubric will be something that can be applied to different classes and still be useful to each individual teacher.”
Perhaps the most challenging task facing the ELO committee is finding financially sustainable strategies. To that end, the school is visiting other schools in search of ideas, investigating uses of teacher time, and submitting another innovation application. The uncertainty regarding the sources of additional funds to pay teachers for additional time and outside providers continues to worry Magaña, who saw his funding for ELO decrease after the first year of implementation. “We think we have a pretty strong program here, and we’ve shown that it really benefits our kids. We’ll continue to search for ways to cut costs without sacrificing quality. At the end of the day though, if something is working well, we just have to find the money to keep it going.”
Ensuring Success of ELO