How Districts Use 21st-Century Community Learning Centers to Extend the School Day

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) Program is a crucial initiative in schools. It provides opportunities during non-school hours for academic enrichment and offers students learning opportunities for active and meaningful engagement, including literacy and related educational development.

Extending the School Day

When I was an after-school director, I had the opportunity to align our school’s curriculum with our extended learning time program. Students spent time reading during the extended hour and also completing projects created by educators that aligned with the topics and content taught during the school day.

These inquiry-based projects involved more than just reading on the subject and helped extend learning outside of school hours. Students also had an opportunity to work on their own hands-on plans to present to their class. The hands-on activities brought their projects to life and also provided students multiple ways to show their understanding of the topic.

Measurable Gains

We knew as educators that allowing students the choice to select how they wanted to learn and providing them multiple entry points was key to getting them to read. As a result, we were able to accomplish significant gains in our English Language Arts Common Core State Test.  

These measurable gains are the goal of the 21st CCLC program. As Angela Cassimere, Supervisor of Instruction, School Choice, and School Improvement in St. Landry Parish Schools, Louisiana, states, “We are always looking to get results, but they need to be good results.” 

Bridging the learning from school time to our 21st CCLC program helped empower students and set them on a path to becoming lifelong learners.

Extending Learning Program Examples

In my current role, I continue to support extended learning programs that build a bridge between school and after-school programming. We work to provide opportunities for students to develop literacy skills in a variety of engaging ways by personalizing the learning experience for them. Here are a couple of recent examples:

Creating reading lists to support extended reading time for afterschool programs: Students can select books on the topics they are covering during school hours, helping them build prior knowledge and providing insight into content they will be covering in class. As a result, teachers can spend more class time introducing new content.

Developing a robotics project for an after-school science program: Students are reading and involved in hands-on activities to demonstrate what they have learned from the books they read. Teachers are reporting high levels of engagement and a tremendous increase in the time students spend reading outside of school.  

Other 21st CCLC program leaders, like the team at Project SAFE in Logan-Hocking School District, Ohio, approach the literacy requirements of their grants through an independent, self-directed reading model. There, students are challenged to read a certain number of books, which they choose from a vast digital library that is also accessible outside of the after-school program.

Because literacy skills are so critical to success in school and in life, we as educators have a responsibility to provide every opportunity for our 21st CCLC students to acquire them through effective strategies that engage and motivate them to become lifelong readers and learners.

For more information on integrating literacy into 21st CCLC programs, click here.

Irene Castro

Irene Castro was a New York City educator for more than 20 years and has Masters degrees in Elementary Education and Literacy. As an Instructional Coach and Data Specialist, she provided professional learning opportunities to teachers, helping them learn to incorporate literacy in their classrooms and use data to drive instruction. She is currently a myON project manager based in Florida.