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Beginning next school year, more than 20,000 students from five states — including some at New London's middle school — will participate in a new program that aims to expand their learning beyond the last bell of the school day.
Students from 40 districts in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Colorado will join their peers from 36 states in 1,002 schools that are already using an extended school day.
The new initiative, supported by the Ford Foundation and the National Center for Time & Learning, was announced Monday by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other education leaders from across the country. In the fall of 2013, those schools will launch the program that will include after-school opportunities in science, math, language, arts, music, drama and sports.
"There is no more important equalizer in education than having children spend more time in good schools with good teachers. There is no substitute. This is the moment for the issue," Ford Foundation President Luis Ubiñas said.
"It is vital that states and the taxpayers in those states think about what they're buying with added education dollars. … They must be used for something tangible, something taxpayers can see, something like a longer school day. An investment in the longer day is an investment in the 21st century workforce and an investment in the economic future of this country," he said.
Three school districts in Connecticut, representing more than 3,000 students from New London, Meriden and East Hartford, have been selected to pilot the program next year. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is scheduled to visit schools in the three communities today.
School districts must submit detailed plans for how they will provide the expanded learning opportunities to students and officials from each school must attend statewide meetings on the effort.
"Students will have a regular school day, then the enrichment activities after school," New London Superintendent of Schools Nicholas A. Fischer said. "It's not just more classes, it could be a science lab, an outdoor activity, a field trip, a walking tour, a visiting speaker, there's all kinds of things."
Malloy, who attended Monday morning's conference at the Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, D.C., said the state's commitment to closing the largest achievement gap in the country is "absolute."
"Connecticut has in fact a long and proud history as a leader in public education, but somewhere along the way we lost our edge," Malloy said. "Education as we know ... is the greatest equalizer … we will do everything to make sure that we don't simply offer opportunities but that we execute them."
In New London, the extended-day pilot program will begin at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School in January.
Editor's note: This version corrects an earlier version.
Two months ago, New London received $809,000 in Alliance District funds. A portion of that money — $120,000 — is earmarked for the district's effort for added learning time.
New London is one of 30 Alliance Districts named by the state commissioner of education, meaning it is one of the lowest-performing districts in the state.
Fischer said the extended-learning program "will be hard to keep up" if the Alliance District, or other state funding, decreases.
"Once this funding disappears, continuity will be an issue. The larger issue of school funding is one that absolutely needs to be addressed," he said.
Duncan said that if the country could close the opportunity gap, the achievement gap would follow.
Drawing upon his tenure as chief executive officer for Chicago Public Schools, Duncan said the most dangerous time of day for a child is from 3 to 6 p.m.
He said students there experienced high rates of crime and violence. They knew the potential of dying early was real.
They talked about "if" they grow up and not "when" they grow up, he said.
"Those hours after school are times of huge anxiety and huge stress," he said. "With high quality programming, social and emotional support, they start talking about when I grow up and not if I grow up. This is a huge step in the right direction."