By Jeff Cole, Beyond School Bells Network Lead
At a ceremony in the Capitol last Thursday, Governor Heineman signed a proclamation identifying the week of January 20 – 24th as Expanded Learning Opportunity Awareness week across Nebraska. At the ceremony, the Governor noted that Expanded Learning Opportunity programs, or ELOs, have emerged in communities across the state as a powerful enhancement to the educational experiences Nebraska youth receive at our high-quality public schools, supporting working parents and engaging youth in stimulating hands on activities during their out of school time hours.
This was the first time that the proclamation explicitly identifies ELOs and the important role these school-community partnerships play in supporting school age youth. In the past, similar proclamations have focused on afte-rschool or community learning center programs. The use of expanded learning opportunities is in step with a growing national movement and is intended to denote a specific type of activity – one that expands the school day and year, not replacing classroom instruction, but supporting it with structured, intentional activities during the non-school hours that engage youth in hands on, skill-building activities through partnerships between schools and community-based organizations.
There are many examples of ELO activity lighting up school buildings during non-school hours in communities across Nebraska. Programs from Chadron to Nebraska City, and many points in between, have strong partnerships between schools and youth serving organizations like 4H/Extension, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, and community partners like community theaters, hospitals, parks and recreation departments, libraries and many, many others. These programs are engaging youth with hands on learning opportunities during the after-school hours and over the summer months, creating hours of opportunity for learning and growth for our state’s highest need students.
Supported by the Federal 21st Century Community Learning Center grant program and a variety of other local, state and federal resources, these programs are an essential part of Nebraska’s comprehensive educational landscape. Local, state and national research shows the impact of regular participation in these high quality ELO programs across a range of youth development indictors. For example, by providing youth opportunities to engage in hands on learning in important Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) skills and to develop their creative thinking skills, ELO programs empower youth with additional hours of learning opportunity to become the thoughtful, skillful citizens Nebraska needs to thrive in the future.
We encourage you to spend some time this week reaching out to others in your community to discuss the importance of Expanded Learning Opportunity programs to youth in your community. Find out who is doing what and what you can do to help. As always, feel free to contact me with any questions that you have about the state of expanded learning in Nebraska.