Leveraging Afterschool for EL Success

by Jennifer Kobrin on October 27, 2010

“English Learners…I’m not sure we have any of those” the site director of a community-based afterschool program in California told me last year. I was skeptical. The program was in a neighborhood that had seen a large influx of Latino immigrants over the past 10 years. What’s more, a teacher from a nearby school said more than half of her students struggled with English.

Scenarios like this one happen every day, across California and in other states. Many ELs can communicate fairly well, but struggle with the kinds of English you might only see in a classroom—words like periodical, reinforcement, or descent. If afterschool programs don’t work with schools to identify their regularly-attending ELs, it’s easy for these students to slip through the cracks.

Afterschool has much to offer language learners—the same hands-on, blended approaches to academics and youth development that are a hallmark of effective afterschool programs can also benefit ELs. As one California-based site coordinator put it, afterschool gives EL students “the gift of time” to practice English in a low-stress setting. But for language learners to benefit, schools and afterschool programs must understand this potential and work together to recruit, identify, and help students.

As part of a larger effort to integrate supports across the learning day, Foundations, Inc. organized two cross-sector meetings of school and afterschool leaders during the ’09-’10 academic year. Bringing a diverse range of leaders from the two sectors together helped to identify promising practices statewide, and to add perspective on this complex issue. “A commitment to looking at data from the school day and then identifying strategies to help ELs in afterschool is very doable,” one meeting participant said.

Promising practices identified at the convenings were used as the basis for a tool intended to help practitioners reflect on where they are in the process, and identify attainable next steps. This Continuum of Collaborative Alignment starts with strategies that are more readily implemented, such as sharing ELs’ classification status and level of English proficiency at the beginning of each school year. The strategies then move from intermediate-level steps to those that are more complex/multifaceted. Organizing joint professional development sessions between school districts, afterschool programs, and county offices of education is one example.

This tool is included in a new CD and online resource, Leveraging Afterschool for EL Success

The resource also includes:

  • Report from a California Convening: Drawing on the insights and experience of school and afterschool leaders from across California, this report highlights strategies for collaborative approaches to supporting ELs.
  • Practical Research: Over 25 research articles, many written by and for educators, provide the base for best-practices. Detailed summaries make it easy to find the most relevant articles.
  • Making the Case: Strategies, tips, and documents for promoting the benefits of afterschool participation to schools, policy-makers, media, and funders.    
  • Extending Opportunities for EL Success PowerPoint®: A ready-to-use Power Point presentation showing the why and how of leveraging afterschool for ELs.
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