Extended Learning Opportunities allow students to earn class credit and meet learning competencies through personalized experiences that often take place outside of the classroom. As New Hampshire businesses work to address the skilled worker gap, ELO programs have captured their attention.
An increasing number of businesses are partnering with local schools to provide flexible pathways for students. Smaller rural schools, like Hinsdale Middle High School, are seeing that ELOs expand opportunities for students in ways that a traditional curriculum could not.
When New Hampshire schools shifted to competency-based learning standards in 2009, Karen Thompson was forming business relationships to build Hinsdale High School’s new Extended Learning Opportunities program.
“We started to look at what are the needs of our businesses. We hear there are a lot of jobs and not enough skilled workers to fill them, and that seems way off when we have amazing students,” said Thompson, Hinsdale’s ELO coordinator.
So she sought about building those skills. And, as her network of business partners expanded, Thompson considered how students could receive credit for participating in an ELO in place of a traditional course, — that provided an opportunity to evaluate the school’s curriculum.
“That opened a lot of doors for our students and helped us evolve new ideas of what ELO can look like,” said Thompson. “It became painfully obvious to me there was a disconnect in what the business world was saying and what the school was teaching. I noticed a lot of gaps.”
To bridge those gaps, Thompson suggested teachers travel with students to the ELOs and meet with their business mentors.
“While it’s been difficult and messy, I think this pilot project allows teachers to see business and education connections through a different lens,” she said.
Now, once a week, Hinsdale teachers meet with mentors to discuss how to assess students’ work at ELOs, taking into consideration how businesses assess the competency of their workers.
“That rocked the world of traditional grading and shifted to that competency piece more,” says Thompson…
State Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said he’s very much focused on developing business and education connections and thinks ELOs are a good pathway forward.
“We’re trying to make sure we create opportunities for kids to have real-world experiences as well as different learning opportunities,” said Edelblut.
According to Amy Aiello, program specialist at the Bureau of Special Education under the state Department of Education, over 30 high schools have registered for statewide trainings focused on how to build high-quality ELOs.
Alvirne’s Wilbur H. Palmer Career Technical Center has used federal Perkins grants to create the roles of business and community liaison and career counselor. By using a mix of federal and local funding, the school has demonstrated the value of the positions eventually earned local support for retaining them.
Creating the ELO coordinator role has allowed Oyster River to enhance the student experience, said Peschel. But he stressed that the success is not based on the ELO role alone.
“It’s the school working collaboratively together and the support of the school administrative unit — the superintendents, the school board and the department and staff inside,” he said.
“This district really put a priority on offering our children opportunities and personalizing education,” said Thompson of Hinsdale. “We’re small. We can’t offer as many classes as a bigger school. And then they realized, we don’t need more classes.”
Thompson said Hinsdale’s ELO program has grown from five or six students to 47 juniors and seniors working with 120 businesses and 70 different mentors.
In March, the National School Boards Association awarded the Hinsdale School Board a first place Magna Award in the under 5,000 enrollment category for its Extended Learning Opportunities program. (Last year, Thompson was named NH ELO Coordinator of the Year in the NH Excellence in Education Awards.)
“Everyone is taking ELOs, and these experiences are what will get them to the next stage in their life. The student voices speak to that,” said Thompson. “I think that’s what prompted [the school board] to say this is worth our investment.”
Read more about ELOs in New Hampshire:
- Spaulding seniors have high visibility opportunities at the national and local level through ELOs
- Navigating Our Way: Respecting and Supporting All Pathways to Success
- Hypertherm and Fujifilm Dimatix provide Lebanon-area students with unique learning opportunities
- Ready in the 603: Opportunities for all students to have the future they want
- Reaching Higher NH ELO Resources