9-hour day includes robotics, dance, cooking

 In a tough Oakland neighborhood, a middle school offers a 9-hour school day, reports Susan Frey on EdSource.  Elmhurst Community Prep students can choose enrichment classes in robotics, music, dance, painting, cooking, blogging and other activities. “They can make collages, dissect fetal pigs or create apps,” writes Frey.

“We’re not just cookies and basketballs,” said Principal Kilian Betlach,  “We have a real moral imperative to provide kids from low-income backgrounds with the services and opportunities that middle-class kids get. We don’t do just hard academics. We offer access and opportunities.”

Classes begin at 8 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. Federally funded AmeriCorps teaching fellows tutor students during the day and teach after-school classes. The regular academic teachers get an hour each afternoon, from 2 to 3 p.m., to work collaboratively and plan.

Citizen Schools, a national nonprofit, helps train the Americorps fellows and brings in “citizen teachers” from the community to teach their specialties. Local companies invite students for “apprenticeship” experiences.

At Pandora, students learned how to make an app. “It was a video game where you dodge fireballs,” Betlach recalled.

The school also works with nonprofits such as Waterside Workshops in Berkeley, where the students built a boat.

In 8th grade, student focus on one after-school activity.  Andres McDade, who tried robotics, skateboarding and film, chose music as an 8th grader. He plays the saxophone and percussion drum. “I like the joy of playing music,” he said.

Betlach and Citizen Schools “have cobbled together federal, state, local and private funding” to pay for the extended day, writes Frey.

In his days as a San Jose teacher, Betlach wrote an excellent blog, Teaching in the 408.

I visited Elmhurst a few months ago. (The school is participating in a blended learning pilot, which I’m writing about for Education Next‘s spring issue.) It’s a small, semi-autonomous school in Oakland Unified, so it has some freedom to innovate but all the usual challenges.

Duncan: AmeriCorps will help failing schools

AmeriCorps volunteers will help raise graduation rates at the nation’s worst schools, said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. With $15 million in federal funding, the School Turnaround AmeriCorps will send 650 members into 60 schools.

Duncan said AmeriCorps members will improve school safety, attendance and discipline, help students improve their reading and math skills and increase college enrollment by helping students and their parents apply for financial aid.

AmeriCorps members must be 18 to 24 years old. They don’t have to be high school graduates, much less college graduates. They get a subsistence wage, plus college aid or help paying student loans. It’s hard to believe they’ll be effective tutors, though perhaps they could patrol the halls and restrooms.

High school dropouts are costing some $1.8 billion in lost tax revenue every year, estimates a new report, which foresees a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020.

It’s not that simple, education economist Henry Levin tells the Huffington Post. “It’s like saying, if my 3-foot-tall child were 6 feet tall, my child would be able to do all sorts of things.”

Or, as they used to say: If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

More ‘gappers’ postpone college

Postponing college for a “gap year” of service and travel is a growing trend, reports the Wall Street Journal. The story profiles Lillian Kivel, who deferred Harvard to intern at a global health nonprofit and serve as a legislative aide in the Massachusetts Statehouse.

To fill her spring months, Ms. Kivel turned to gap-year consultant Holly Bull, president of Interim Programs, to help her sift through more than 100 different programs in China. Ms. Kivel will live with a host family in Shanghai, study Chinese language, history and culture in a classroom setting, and teach English to children. “I have gained so much by … becoming more responsible and independent [and] exploring my interests,” Ms. Kivel says.

Princeton plans to offer a gap year option to admitted students, who will be placed in an overseas service job.  Students will be eligible for financial aid to cover their costs.

Motivated students probably benefit from a year to work and explore; average students, who aren’t likely to be studying in Shanghai, may get off the academic track and never get back on.

Americorps offers a chance to work at low wages and earn college aid. However, as Donald Douglas writes, a year of foreign travel and resume-polishing service is a luxury that most young people can’t afford.  If they take a year between high school and college, they won’t hire a $2,000 “gap” consultant; they’ll get a “job.”