By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — On a recent Friday, Jacob Lozada and Randy Ovalles were working on robots with Guilmette School paraprofessional Liz Morin. In another room, Maricruz Ortiz was practicing yoga while Veronica Levesque and Nicole Ortega were making snacks in the kitchen.
The hub of activities did not take place at the school, but at the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence. The school and the club have established a partnership to offer enrichment programs as schools add between 200 to 300 hours to the academic year. The increased hours are part of the turnaround plan established by Receiver/superintendent Jeff Riley.
“We believe we need extended learning time at the elementary and middle school levels to close the achievement and opportunity gaps,” Riley said. “So we’re providing children with high quality academic and enrichment opportunities to ensure they’re ready for the transition to high school.”
Before this year, city students went to school for about 1,130 hours. During the 2013-2014 academic years all students in first to eighth grade attend an additional 200-300 hours in 21 schools, said Chris Markuns spokesperson for Lawrence Public School.
Extended learning time is a key component of the Turnaround Plan, Markuns said. Schools established in 2012-13 including UP, Phoenix, Spark Academy, Community Day Arlington built it into their school day.
He said added enrichment like arts and physical fitness are part of every school’s extended learning time plan and one of the “7 Essential Elements” of the Extended Learning Time.
“We’ve always valued arts and we felt this enrichment program would provide kids a real motivator to feel positive about school and do well in school because it’s not your traditional academic day,” Guilmette elementary principal Lori Butterfield said.
Guilmette is one of four Lawrence elementary schools participating in TIME Collaborative and adding 300 hours to their school year. The others are Parthum, South Lawrence East and Arlington. Teachers receive professional development from the National Center on Time and Learning to help them achieve the additional hours.
Guilmette Elementary has 586 students. On Fridays from 12:45 to 2:30 p.m., all third and fourth graders go to the Boys and Girls Club for robotics, yoga, dance, sports, digital arts, creative arts, chorus, swimming and karate. First and second graders stay at school where they participate in soccer, music, dance, art, author studies, storytelling, boxing, and science.
While third- and fourth-graders are at the club, their teachers attend workshops, meet with fellow teachers to plan lessons
“They are learning how to leverage their time and strategies for a curriculum to benefit each child,” managing director, school and district support for National Center on Time and Learning, Colleen Beaudoin said. “This has the potential for being a model program.”
“The first week, we didn’t know who was smiling more, the teachers or the kids,” Butterfield said.
Different schools used the time in different ways, but one of the key focuses has been adding enrichment programs.
Berente Lopez and Nivon Walsek, both fourth graders at Guilmette are thrilled about going to the Boys and Girls Club one day a week.
Lopez had just participated in a all-girl discussion about good and bad influences.
“It was a really nice talk with friends and people I trust,” Lopez said. “I listened to the advice and learned there’s a difference between a good friend and a bad friend.”
Walsek likes building robots as he did on a recent Friday.
“This is my favorite part of being here, learning how to build a robot. I learned how to use wires and make something out of nothing,” he said.
“They will be using these skills throughout their lives,” said Mary Toomey, who is helping implement the extended learning time across the district. “The more time they have at school, the better chances we’ll have to provide them with a well-rounded education.”
Butterfield said she has seen students carryover what they have learned at the Boys and Girls Club into the school.
“They are holding doors for others, saying, ‘Thank you.’ They are building self-confidence and improving their attitude in school in situations where in the past would have been different,” she said. “It’s exciting to see that it works.”
In addition to the Boys and Girls Club, Guilmette School works with Groundwork Lawrence, Greater Lawrence Boating Program, Beyond Soccer, Merrimack College, Canal Street Boxing, and Merrimack Valley Community School of Music in providing different programs at the club and at the school.
The Boys and Girls Club has also partnered with Wetherbee Elementary. Other partnerships include Imajine That with Wetherbee and Parthum; Merrimack Valley YMCA with Arlington Middle and Leahy; South Lawrence East Elementary and Parthum Elementary are working with Andover Breadloaf and Phillips Academy, a writing and pen pal program that was in the schools before the extended learning time, but has been expanded. Playworks Massachusetts is working with Guilmette, Parthum and South Lawrence East and The Joey Fournier Services is doing anti-bullying/violence prevention at the Bruce, Frost, Wetherbee, South Lawrence East Middle and Parthum.
In addition, the University of Massachusetts Extension program has expanded its nutrition education classes at almost every school.
The Extended Learning Time initiative is paid for by finding savings internally, including $1.6 million saved by reducing Central Office staff. Parthum, South Lawrence East and Guilmette schools received 21st Century grants for enrichment partners and blended learning.