As the final bell of the regular school day rings through the hallways of Denton Independent School District’s E.P. Rayzor Elementary, hundreds of students pour out to head home. But for about 80 students, the bell signals a new beginning, rather than an end.
In Rayzor’s three-hour extended school day program, participants complete homework, join in social development activities and get additional recess time.
“[Parents] know when school is out they can have a structured supervised program under the hospice of the school run by education professionals,” said Steve Johnson, head coordinator of the district’s extended school day program, which is in place at 21 Denton ISD elementary schools. “Children get the best of both worlds — the academic world with leisure where they are involved in activities that are at the core with academia in a fun way.”
The program is the kind of initiative that the state’s new Expanded Learning Opportunities Council will be charged to study as its members develop a statewide action plan to improve and create expanded learning opportunities in public schools. Such approaches include longer school days and school years as well as programs before and after regular school hours.
The 13-member council will include educators, representatives affiliated with expanded learning programs, expanded education research experts, a Texas Education Agency representative, a law enforcement representative and a member of the business community.
Education Commissioner Michael Williams is expected to make appointments to the council by Dec. 3, and the council is required to submit a report to the Legislature by November 2014.
The council's mandates also include making recommendations to create partnerships with businesses or nonprofit organizations that can provide charitable support for these programs and identify ways to increase extended learning opportunities in some areas.
The council will be able to use the Denton ISD program and similar programs in other districts, including Lewisville and Granbury, as after-school program models at the elementary school level. Parents are required to pay monthly tuition to enroll their children in the program.
During the 2011-12 school year, 12 public schools in the Fort Worth and Houston districts also offered extended school days as part of their regular schedule, according to the nonprofit National Center on Time and Learning’s expanded-time schools database.
Jones High School and Sharpstown High School in Houston also have an extended school year and stay in session for two and five days, respectively, beyond the regular 180-day school year, according to the database.
Mandi Kimball, executive director of the nonprofit Children at Risk, said the council will help stakeholders examine which extended-learning programs are effective and why some models don’t work. Children at Risk partnered with politicians and the Texas Partnership for Out of School Time to push the bill through the Legislature.
One possible focus for the council could be setting uniform standards of implementation for extended learning time programs.
The federal School Improvement Grant program provides states with funding for extended learning time programs, but a lack of program regulation has led to poor implementation, Kimball said.
“It’s more than just opening the doors longer,” Kimball said. “People want to be innovative, and we want learning, but we also want accountability.
Molly Wofford, executive director for the Texas Partnership for Out of School Time, said creating an oversight system for extended learning time programs will benefit the council as it assesses how to leverage available resources to design effective after-school programs.
“There is a juvenile justice aspect to all of this,” Wofford said. “The hours of 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. are the most critical for youth. Typically, you see higher rates for alcohol and drug use. These programs can help reduce discipline incidents.”
While the need for educators and a law enforcement representative is evident Wofford added that the presence of a business community representative will also help inform educators on the effectiveness of schools and extended programs in ultimately preparing students for the workforce.