Nebraska’s ELO Design Challenge: Opening New Doors to Learning

Opportunity knocked. Beyond School Bells and a strong coalition of districts and partners from around the state responded.

Beyond School Bells (BSB), a public-private partnership at Nebraska Children, is proud to be a lead partner in Nebraska’s Expanded Learning Opportunity (ELO) Design Challenge.  Funded by a 2017 Nebraska Department of Education Innovation Grant with matching funds from project partners and private funders, the ELO Design Challenge is an ambitious 30-month, $1.8 million project that promises to expand educational opportunities across the state.

design challengeThe ELO Design Challenge is built around one question: How would K-8 ELO programming look if we were to design, from the ground up, hands-on, project-based educational opportunities in afterschool and summer programs that were integrated with school day learning and supported district and state education goals, were powered by school-community partnerships, and were sustainable, affordable, and scalable statewide?

The Challenge is a statewide partnership to answer that question through designing, prototyping, validating, and ultimately scaling up replicable and economically viable models of intentional, engaging afterschool and summer programming that supports K-8 student and school success and is powered by strong school-community partnerships.

Importantly, the Challenge will be designed to align with the tenets of Nebraska’s AQuESTT, NE Career Readiness Standards, and NDE’s STEM Approach. Finally, the Challenge will be guided by national and state best practices in school-based and community-powered quality afterschool and summer programming.


Districts participating in the Challenge include Centura, Grand Island, Beatrice, Boone Central, and Auburn. Simultaneously, the team will be working closely with BSB’s statewide Coalition of existing ELO communities, enabling the Challenge to also directly impact students in most of Nebraska’s largest and highest-need districts. Consequently, Challenge materials and approaches will promote the expansion of high-quality, affordable ELO programs in communities of every size across the state and enhance the quality of existing programs serving tens of thousands of students across Nebraska.

The Challenge team also includes a stellar group of youth development and education advocates including Beyond School Bells, Nebraska Extension, and the Nebraska Community Foundation. In addition, we will work closely with the Nebraska Association of School Boards, the Nebraska Council of School Administrators, and the Educational Service Unit Coordinating Council to share these lessons learned with educational leaders across the state. We anticipate other partners will join this effort during project implementation.

Community Kickoff

On April 24, teams from the five communities convened at UNL’s Innovation Campus for a half-day kickoff meeting to begin identifying key elements of their community’s initiative. Community-design teams worked with state-level partners as they went through hands-on exercises to visualize and identify community assets that could be harnessed in this project as well as listing the priority needs and goals that the ELO program could address.

As the kickoff meeting illustrates, while the Challenge is a statewide initiative, key programming and sustainability strategies will be shaped by local resources and assets. Projects will be designed to support youth growth and development and will feature project-based programming that responds to community needs and builds on community assets.

During year one, all participating communities will be provided with Think, Make, Create (TMC) Labs, a BSB-designed mobile maker space. Designed to support STEM learning and serve as a platform for early tinkering and making, the TMC lab is also envisioned as a tool to help foster deeper community engagement, including community programming, pop-up classrooms, and local sponsorship opportunities.

As an example of the kinds of innovative pop-up learning the TMC lab can support, during our brainstorming session, one community envisioned taking the TMC lab to a trailer home park over the summer for a hands-on rocketry activity that would conclude with a visit by the bookmobile to provide opportunities for participating youth to check out books on space exploration, thus supporting summer literacy goals.

Looking ahead, all five communities have expressed an interest in developing community gardens that can serve as laboratories for STEM learning and further strengthen community partnerships. Fortunately, with NE Extension at the table, we have a deep reservoir of expertise in how to bring STEM-learning-rich community gardens to schools. In addition, through the participation of existing ELO programs in communities across the state in the Challenge, we have diverse examples of afterschool and summer community garden-related projects that communities can study and borrow from as they launch their own community gardens in 2018.

The Challenge represents a unique opportunity for Beyond School Bells – an opportunity to work with underserved communities to develop approaches that expand horizons and hope for all Nebraska youth. This project builds on what is best about our state – our commitment to our youth and our desire to step up to provide all our youth with all the supports they need to succeed in school and in life.  Please contact Jeff Cole, ELO Design Challenge Project Coordinator and Vice President of School-Community Partnerships at Nebraska Children, at if you would like more information about this exciting opportunity.

Nebraska Children's mission is to maximize the potential of Nebraska’s children, youth, and families through collaboration and community-centered impact.

Tagged with: , , , ,
Posted in Middle Childhood, News and Events
One comment on “Nebraska’s ELO Design Challenge: Opening New Doors to Learning
  1. Rosemary Q says:

    Grreat blog you have

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

%d bloggers like this: