By Jeff Cole, Associate Vice President of School-Community Partnerships
Every September is national school success month. And we at Nebraska Children and Families Foundation think we have quite a bit to celebrate across the state.
Our students are fortunate to live in a state like Nebraska with such great public schools. Staffed by caring, qualified teachers working in buildings that have been cared for by generations, Nebraska public schools boast the third best graduation rates in the country, high college going rates and a tradition of turning our caring citizens ready to face the challenges of the world.
But Nebraskans aren’t they types who rest on their laurels.
We know there’s still work to be done. We realize that school success is based on more than the quality of the schools and teachers that work with our children during the school days. Schools are a reflection so the communities they serve and as such, school success reflects a complex interplay of school and non-school factors.
One area that research has increasingly been clear about is the role of non-school factors, the 80% of a school aged youth’s waking hours not spent in a classroom, play in school success. Simply put, schools shouldn’t be expected to provide all a young person’s learning opportunities by themselves. Fortunately in Nebraska, they don’t have to, as we have a rich array of strong school-community partnerships that are powering expanded learning opportunity programs around the state.
Learning in Nebraska goes beyond the school bell. Here’s some examples of how we’re making it happen:
LINCOLN’S CITYWIDE CLC PROGRAM: One the earliest and longest-lasting examples of a citywide system coordinating Expanded Learning Opportunities in Nebraska is Lincoln’s 12-year-old Community Learning Center program. Operating in all of the city’s highest poverty schools, the Lincoln CLC initiative brings together schools with community organizations to offer diverse afterschool and summer learning opportunities for thousands of youth that enhance and support the high-quality education youth receive in the classroom. The Lincoln CLC program also provides important parent education and support opportunities that further strengthen the learning environment that helps support success for all students.
OMAHA’S COLLECTIVE FOR YOUTH: Lincoln is not alone in having a citywide system coordinating afterschool programs. The non-profit Collective for Youth has recently emerged to play a similar role in Omaha. Growing from a successful Middle School initiative, Collective for Youth now helps coordinate afterschool and summer programs in middle and elementary schools. Through partnerships linking schools, community organizations and informal education centers, Collective for Youth provides participating students with the additional opportunities for exciting, hands-on learning experiences and the chance to engage with their peers in a low-stress environment that research shows helps support students success.
CHADRON AFTERSCHOOL PROGRAM: Such programs are certainly not limited to the Eastern part of our state. Chadron has an afterschool program that has been successfully providing young people in several school buildings with afterschool and summer supports for close to 15 years. Recently, this program has begun partnering with Nebraska BLAST!, a Nebraska Department of Education initiative to strengthen the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) experiences in afterschool programs. Program administrators are busy working to incorporate astronomy into Chadron’s afterschool experience and are planning an evening parent engagement activity to help parents appreciate the need to support their children’s learning both inside and outside the classroom.
COLUMBUS-UNL PARTNERSHIP: Another example of a strong school community partnership supporting afterschool programs in central Nebraska can be seen in Columbus and their strong, long term partnership with UNL’s 4-H Extension program to grow and sustain a multi-building afterschool program in partnership with Columbus Public Schools. Like many Greater Nebraska communities across our state, Columbus depends on Extension Educators to help push the boundaries of learning outside of the classroom and to create a collaborative culture that encourages other community partners to get involved in creating new and engaging opportunities for student success to be supported outside of the classroom.
Can you find more examples? They’re all over Nebraska.
Similar successes can be seen in other many other communities all across our great state. These partnerships reflect a broad understanding that educating successful young people is a task too important to be reserved as the sole responsibility of classroom teachers. This commonsense understanding reflects longstanding Nebraska traditions.
So while the last week of National School Success month passes us by, take a moment to reflect on what makes success in school happen. It’s the quality of the schools and teachers, to be sure. But in the 80% of time that students spend outside of school, what else can we be doing to enhance their learning, push them toward higher academic achievement, and prepare them for high-paying, fulfilling jobs in adulthood. Let’s appreciate what we have in Nebraska, and start talking about what’s next.