What is Expanded Learning?

Additional time spent in expanded learning will only be beneficial to students if that time is spent in ways that maximize teaching and learning.
Additional time spent in expanded learning will only be beneficial to students if that time is spent in ways that maximize teaching and learning.

Every child deserves an equal opportunity to education. Unfortunately, many at-promise students – students who experience economic or social challenges – are not as successful as they could be because their schools, communities /or families are under-resourced. This lack of access to resources has become more evident recently with the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic shined a light on educational inequities that arose during the aftermath of at-home learning.

In fact, McKinsey & Company shared research that indicated that “students, on average, could have experienced up to five to nine months of unfinished learning” from the months spent at home. This can result from several factors, including lack of access to technology and parents’ and guardians’ competing responsibilities in the home such as work or childcare.

One critical way to ensure students have access to the tools for success is through expanded learning.

Why Expanded Learning?

Elementary Institute of Science

Expanded learning helps at-promise students access to resources that can help them meet local educational standards. It provides learning opportunities outside the standard in-school setting through summer, afterschool or community programs and strategies.

According to The Education Trust, a unified approach between the school and expanded learning program is critical to the educational success of the student:

“District Leaders will need to ensure that all school time is used especially well after months of unfinished instruction. Expanded learning can only be effective if time during the school day is also used to efficiently and effectively accelerate learning.”

In simpler terms, the additional time spent in expanded learning will only be beneficial to students if that time is spent in ways that maximize teaching and learning. The district and school leaders will need to make wise decisions in staffing, curriculum, and which trusted community organizations to partner with to meet the learning needs of the students. With school budgets tighter than ever, deciding which programs to invest in will be highly important. However, if evidence-based learning programs are at the heart of those investments, the benefits of expanded learning for students can be vast.

Student Benefits of Expanded Learning

The research on the student benefits of expanded learning is widely accepted. The Education Trust learned that “increasing the number of hours of instruction students receive during school day – including nonacademic class periods or extended school days – can be effective for all age groups, types of students and subject matter.” It’s important to note that these benefits also extend to strategic programs in summer learning or after school.

Let’s have a look at the impact expanded learning is having from programs around the country as reported in the research from ExpandED Schools:

  • In afterschool settings, high-quality expanded learning programs have been shown to increase average student test scores by 12 percentile points.*
  • A 2012 study of students in three California communities showed that students who participated in high-quality summer learning programs improved their vocabulary by one-third of a grade level.
  • Nine of 10 parents of students who participated in California’s Summer Matters reported that the summer programs helped their children get along better with other children.

Benefitting San Diego Students

Here in our region, The San Diego Foundation is supporting expanded learning through a goal of fostering equity of opportunity – one of our strategic pillars

With the impact of COVID-19 on under-resourced students, The San Diego Foundation saw an increased need for summertime educational environments to accelerate learning and address the social-emotional needs of that student group. The Level Up SD program was born from that need.

Working with San Diego Unified School District and 88 nonprofit partners, Level Up SD provided summer enrichment programming to more than 12,000 students. The Level Up SD program provided free summer enrichment programs for students to participate in a wide range of San Diego organizations including, Girls Scouts San Diego, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater San Diego, Junior Achievement of San Diego, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, Elementary Institute of Science and La Jolla Playhouse.

Level Up SD was made possible by the San Diego Unified Expanded Learning Opportunities Grant.  Planning is currently underway for an equity-focused after school spring program at select schools with high enrollment of at-promise students.

Learn more about our Strategic Plan and how we foster equity of opportunity.

*Durlak, Joseph A., Roger P. Weissberg, and Molly Pachan. A metaanalysis of after-school programs that seek to promote personal and social skills in children and adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology 45, no. 3 (2010): 294-309.