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Why the school day should be expanded

Students from Young Scholars Academy for Discovery and Exploration in Bed-Stuy learn to dance in an expanded day program sponsored by TASC. Students from Young Scholars Academy for Discovery and Exploration in Bed-Stuy learn to dance in an expanded day program sponsored by TASC.

Ever since Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed in his State of the State speech to invest state funds in expanding the school day or year, I've been listening for the objections. They cropped up again this week when he proposed in his budget to spend $20 million to expand learning time by at least 25% in high-needs districts.

Objections fall into a few categories. How do we pay for it? What's the benefit from more of the same school day? I've also heard parents say their kids are not robots who can sit at their desks for another three hours. The most depressing remarks are about kids who are so discouraged or disengaged, another minute of school feels like too much.

They're legitimate concerns, but to me a truly expanded day is the answer to all of them. The only way we can equalize opportunity among more-and-less advantaged students and towns is to take a community-wide approach to expanding the school day and year. That means schools working with organizations like settlement houses to expand their faculty – bringing in community educators who specialize in music and sports and supporting kids' social and emotional health – and broadening the curriculum to engage and motivate every student. This is how we make more time for subjects, like science and art, which get squeezed out of curriculum. It's also how we bring in talented community members to work alongside teachers and give them the time to concentrate on core academic instruction.

This partnership approach suggested by the governor -- one that's often missing from school reform efforts -- is also the answer to the cost question. Coordinating efforts across schools, governments and nonprofit organizations, as TASC has done in ExpandED Schools, is the path to efficiency and better use of scarce public resources.

The pressures on working families -- wrought by technology, the demands of the modern workplace and our own aspirations for our children's success -- are conspiring to bring about the extinction of the 19th century school day and year. As a working mother of three boys under 12, I know I'm ready for it. I long for a weekend that can be devoted to family time rather than shuttling my boys to activities intended to ensure we're developing their bodies, minds and spirits. Every time I have to leave church early to dash to flag football, or choose between a birthday party and a swimming lesson, I wish that more enrichments could be incorporated into school days that stretch to cover my working hours.

I'm fortunate to have family nearby and a job where I can duck out to deal with the afternoon juggle when all our well-planned systems fall apart. But friends with looser support networks, or multiple part-time jobs where they don't get paid if they're not at their posts – they're ready for re-engineered school days and years that their kids don't dread, but will embrace.

Like them, I want to see this longer-school-day movement get it right from the start. Don't you?

Charissa Fernandez is the Chief Operating Officer of TASC (The After School Corporation). She blogs about what she’s reading and other topics at The ExpandED Exchange.

Last modified on Thursday, 24 January 2013 10:42

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