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Extended and Expanding Learning Opportunities

STRATEGY: Offer extended and expanded learning opportunities for all students.

Effective school and district leaders offer extended and expanded learning opportunities for all students to increase the positive impact on a range of social, emotional, physical, and cognitive outcomes. As David Farbman stated in 2015, “[B]oth research and practice indicate that adding time to the school day and/or year can have a meaningful and positive impact on student proficiency and, indeed, upon a child’s entire educational experience. Such enhancement can be especially consequential for economically disadvantaged students, who tend to enter school trailing behind their more affluent peers academically, continue to lag as they proceed through each grade, and have fewer opportunities outside of school for learning. For these millions of students, more time in school can be a path to equity.”

By offering supplemental learning opportunities that are student centered and connected to the school day, effective school and district leaders promote constructive learning within and beyond the school day to reinforce critical skills and knowledge that contribute to increased motivation, engagement, and academic performance among students


Effective extended and expanded learning opportunities, or ELOs, provide additional time for educators and volunteers to augment the learning that occurs during the standard instructional day. These learning opportunities may be school-based or community based, during or outside of school hours, mandatory or voluntary. According to a synthesis of the research, the most effective extended and expanded learning opportunities share similar attributes, such as establishing specific academic and social outcomes, following intentional and focused instructional designs, providing highly targeted and individualized attention, and reflecting age-appropriate and culturally appropriate programming. Common ELOs include academic-oriented mentoring, multi-service after-school programs, homework assistance centers, art and recreational activities, service-learning experiences, job shadowing, and internships.

According to Farbman, an effective ELO program confers three distinct, though interdependent, benefits to both students and teachers:

  1. More engaged time in academic classes, allowing broader and deeper coverage of curricula, as well as more individualized learning support;
  2. More dedicated time for teacher collaboration and embedded professional development that enable educators to strengthen instruction and develop a shared commitment to upholding high expectations; and
  3. More time devoted to enrichment classes and activities that expand students’ educational experiences and boost engagement in school.

First Steps to Consider

When a clear plan for leveraging instructional time inside and outside of the school day exists, academic, career, social, and emotional outcomes for students improve. By providing students with flexible program models adapted to their individual needs, the skill sets, interests, and capacity for learning, especially among underserved and marginalized students, are greatly enhanced.

Quick wins

  • Promote a vision for a comprehensive learning system that draws on all the resources available throughout the community.
  • Build collaborative structures across educational, business, and nonprofit sectors that focus resources on supporting academic and developmental goals for students.
  • Promote a culture of shared accountability to ensure that students are provided with the support they need to achieve academic and career success.
  • Attract and hire high-quality staff committed to and engaged with students.
  • Leverage technology aligned with future-ready skills as a key component of the ELO.
  • Focus on the academic needs of the most underserved students.

First steps

  • Invest time in developing strong partnerships between community-based organizations and key school and district personnel.
  • Develop a communication strategy to foster strong connections and working partnerships among all stakeholders.
  • Identify outcomes and measures to which all programs and providers in the comprehensive ELO system will be held accountable.
  • Focus on building capacity across and within systems to ensure the high-quality implementation of services.
  • Ground the learning experiences in active, hands-on activities to afford students a broad array of skill-building and enrichment opportunities.
  • Incorporate experiential and project-based learning, tutoring, and mentoring in the program to facilitate a strong support system of peer-to-adult and peer-to-peer relationships.
  • Implement authentic assessments aligned with the ELO objectives to enable students to apply and demonstrate real-world application of their learning.
  • Attend to facility needs to ensure that the design of the facilities is conducive to ELO activities and expected outcomes.
  • Establish a system for tracking student progress aligned with expected outcomes.

Complexities & Pitfalls

In order to leverage time in ways that maximize benefits to students, school leaders must navigate competing priorities to make more and better use of learning time. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, they must avoid the pitfall of associating extended time with increased learning. More time does not equate with more learning.

Common pitfalls

  • Implementing ELOs without effective partnerships or leadership buy-in.
  • Limited effort invested in relationship building across all stakeholder groups.
  • Lack of a communication strategy to provide accurate and timely information to students, families, schools, community-based organizations, etc.
  • Unclear learning goals for ELOs.
  • Minimal ELO choices for students.
  • More of the same from the school day.
  • Inconsistent scheduling practices.
  • Misalignment of ELOs with the larger educational system.
  • Lack of awareness of existing constraints (i.e., transportation, staffing, space, etc.).
  • Inattention to sustainability efforts of ELOs if funding ceases.

Guiding Questions

  • What processes, procedures, and systems are needed to implement effective extended learning opportunities?
  • What are the staffing needs required to implement the ELO, and what support might community organizations and volunteers provide? What strategies will be implemented to recruit and retain ELO staff and volunteers? What strategies will be implemented to foster collaboration among ELO staff?
  • What support is needed—such as writing grants, arranging for technology, and assisting planning teams—to enhance school-based ELOs?
  • How will community partners be prepared to support the implementation of ELOs?
  • What types of parent communication or outreach may be necessary to promote participation by students in the ELOs? What are the different modes of communication that might be implemented in association with the ELO?
  • What grouping configurations will work best for each type of ELO implemented? What considerations exist for different age groups?
  • What methods will be used to connect ELOs to the overall educational program? How will the priority of specific ELOs be determined if resources are limited? What options exist to rotate ELOs?
  • What provisions will be necessary to accommodate students with special needs as participants in ELOs?
  • What types of feedback loops will be implemented to support continuous improvement of ELOs? How will success be measured, and with what level of frequency?