— Elizabeth Gehrman
3. STAY IN SCHOOL (LONGER)
THOUGH KIDS might feel like they spend half their lives in the classroom, the fact is that over the course of a year, school takes up only 20 percent of the hours children are awake. For kids from well-off families, especially those with college-educated parents, homework plus arts programs, learning-based summer camps, tutors, and town-sponsored sports teams supplement the three R’s, advocates say. The vast majority of children at or below the poverty line, however, have difficulty completing their homework, according to the Center for Public Education, and have less access to structured extracurricular activities. Studies have shown that both increase learning and lower dropout rates.
“By far the biggest difference in the lives of kids from these two groups is what’s happening outside of school, not inside,” says Chris Gabrieli, founder of Mass 2020, an initiative that aims to extend educational and economic opportunities for Massachusetts children and families.
If disadvantaged students’ lives outside the classroom aren’t as well rounded, Gabrieli reasoned, why not give them enrichment during the school day? His organization is leading an effort to add up to 50 percent more school time to the average kid’s day — say, from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, along with 18 Saturdays a year and a month in the summer. Nineteen schools in Massachusetts have adopted at least part of the program, and more are adopting it nationwide.
Kids who need help in a certain area are given extra time with an instructor, and all kids take electives, from sports to drama club.
4. KEEP THE BOOKS HANDY
A DIGITAL REVOLUTION is coming soon — to your child’s backpack. Boston-based Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), which publishes about half of the textbooks in the country, in August teamed up with Kno, a software company in Santa Clara, California, that creates interactive digital textbooks for college students, to bring the idea to parents in the K-through-12 market. The 200,000 or so titles now available in subjects ranging from philosophy to calculus to French offer interactivity, cross-platform use, and enhanced content like video simulations, 3-D renderings, annotations, bookmarks, and ad-free links, at a cost of $5 to $125 per book, depending on the text.
Besides that content, the big plus, says HMH’s executive vice president for strategy and alliances, Tim Cannon, is access. Because a given book’s data are held in The Cloud, a student can leave his textbook at school and still pick up reading where he left off on his iPad during the trip home in the car, switch to his mother’s smartphone while waiting for dinner, and then finish his assignment on the desktop in his bedroom. “You can see everything you’ve done with the previous two devices,” Cannon points out.
An added benefit is that kids don’t have to lug a huge pile of books back and forth between home and school. “I weighed my fifth-grade daughter’s backpack, and it was 27 pounds,” says Kno CEO and cofounder Osman Rashid. “She weighs 60.” Even if their children’s schools have not gone digital, parents may be able to get digital versions of the books their kids are using in class; leaving the textbook at school completely eliminates the backpack. “The people who are going to hate us the most,” says Rashid, “are chiropractors.”
5. CAPTURE THEIR MINDS DURING THE SUMMER
ONE OF THE BIGGEST differences in learning between children from privileged backgrounds and those who are disadvantaged doesn’t take place during the school year at all. Students in the former category might spend their summers taking karate, visiting the library with a parent or sitter, and learning about history during family vacations. Kids in the latter category often miss out, and studies have shown that ignoring skills learned in the school year comes at a price. Students can lose up to three months of skills before school starts again in September, and once they’re behind, they tend to stay behind.
Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL), a national nonprofit founded 20 years ago and based in Boston, has figured out a way to change that. It gives the highest-needs kids from the highest-needs schools six weeks of project-based academics with a district’s best teachers in the morning, along with enrichment activities in the afternoon and field trips on Fridays.
Does it work? BELL’s standardized evaluation tests revealed that during BELL Summer, kids across the country increased an average of 10 percentile points in both reading and math, significantly shrinking the gap between their academic performance and their peers’.
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