America's Promise Alliance has recently published a report funded by the Ford Foundation titled Expanded Learning, Expanded Opportunity: How Four Communities Are Working to Improve Education for Their Students. The report examines case studies from four cities from around the nation, and their efforts to supplement traditional schooling with after-school learning time. The ultimate takeaway: due to the fact that each community differs from the next, there is more than one approach for providing young people with educational support they need to help them thrive in school.

Expanded Learning through Community Collaboration

These out-of-school opportunities work to provide at-risk students with the chance to continue their education in alternative learning environments. The cities that were profiled- Grand Rapids, MI; Louisville, KY; Memphis, TN; and Rochester, NY, each embody a diverse and unique set of challenges and opportunities for community engagement.

Each city took a different innovative approach to providing expanded learning for students from low-income families and low-performing schools. To do this, schools partnered with community organizations to improve student outcomes by providing after school programs and varied practices to supplement school learning. By building networks of community and philanthropic support, each city was able to create new opportunities for schoolchildren at the local level.

Expanded learning not only helps to improve academic outcomes for students, but also acts as an outlet for emotional and social developmental support. Students have the chance to build upon soft skills, such as teamwork and relationship-building, self-confidence, problem solving and leadership--all critical to developing college and career-readiness. Community initiatives to provide expanded learning also forces cities and stakeholders to sit down and delve into the broader conversation on how to address the overall inequity between communities, and how to move forward with expanding plans for public transportation, promoting safe spaces, access to healthy food and affordable healthcare, and other public policy initiatives that directly impact low-income communities.

By working in collaboration, cities, school districts, community programs, and foundations are able to come together to provide comprehensive alternative solutions for students outside of the school environment. As the report describes, this approach helps to "reverse the fundamental inequity in learning opportunities that often magnify the disadvantages affecting lower-income students and their families." It is clear that this approach is not the only solution to fixing the problems we face as a society, but goes to show that when different stakeholders come together to find solutions, we can a make positive impact through creative measures.

Polk County, Florida

America's Promise Alliance is a coalition of partners dedicated to collectively raising the high school graduation rate to 90% by 2020. As a dedicated partner of the Alliance, Penn Foster High School works to provide alternative learning solutions to non-traditional students. In a similar approach to the four cities highlighted in the Expanded Learning report, Polk County, FL partnered with Penn Foster to implement a "Fresh Start Program" in order to re-engage high school students at risk of dropping out. In the spirit of expanding alternative models for learning, the Fresh Start Program engages students in blended learning through Penn Foster's online High School diploma program. Students can learn at their own pace through online coursework and help and guidance from a program coordinator in the classroom. To date, over 1000 students from Polk County have graduated with the help of the Penn Foster blended education model.

These case studies provide valuable insights on how communities can utilize resources outside of the classroom to help supplement learning and accommodate different learning and lifestyles. Alongside America's Promise Alliance, Penn Foster celebrates the diversity of approaches to expanded learning. Together, community stakeholders can help students recognize their potential and raise their aspirations to achieve in school and beyond.

Discover how Polk County, Florida Increased Its High School Completion Rate Through Blended Learning Solutions

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