Almost 7,000 NH students have taken advantage of hands-on extended learning opportunities

Hinsdale student working on her ELO in Veterinary Sciences.

According to a survey administered by the Department of Education in February, 6,900 students in 62 public high schools have participated in an Extended Learning Opportunity (ELO) this school year alone. ELOs allow students to learn outside of the classroom in meaningful ways that allow them to pursue their interests and get credits for experiences they have in internships, community service, private instruction, work-study, and more.

The report adds to the debate around the Learn Everywhere program, which allows the State Board of Education to approve programs offered by private, nonprofit, and for-profit institutions for academic credit. Proponents of Learn Everywhere have said that ELOs are “spotty” and are not available to many New Hampshire students, but the survey results show a deep commitment to student-centered learning in a variety of environments.

Read more about the Learn Everywhere program and how it compares with existing opportunities for our students here.

Survey findings and concerns

Sixty-two out of 96 public high schools responded to the survey administered by the DOE. Over 6,900 individual students participated in an ELO this school year alone, according to the report.

Most experiences were internships and work-based learning opportunities, in industries such as nursing, physics, dentistry, engineering and defense, law enforcement, and media art. Students took ELOs in advanced art, automotive mechanics, calculus, quantitative reasoning, US Government and History, cultural climate exploration, equine therapy, horticulture, and more.

A survey administered in January 2019 by the New Hampshire School Boards Association found that of the 52% of high schools that responded to the NHSBA survey, only one reported offering no formal ELO opportunities. Most schools offered many various ELOs for their students.

The findings contradict suggestions that ELOs are reserved for subsets of New Hampshire students. In March, Colleen Hroncich, a fellow at the Pennsylvania-based free-market think-tank Commonwealth Foundation, wrote in the New Hampshire Business Review:

“[ELO] implementation has been spotty at best. These new opportunities have only been available to students in districts taking advantage of the state-granted flexibility.”

Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut made a similar assertion in an op-ed for the Union Leader in January, calling the implementation “spotty, at best.”

But state education rules require all districts to offer the opportunity for Extended Learning Opportunities, even if they do not have a formal ELO coordinator, writes Monadnock Regional School District Superintendent Lisa Witte:

“Not all districts have an employee with the title of ELO Coordinator –but all districts have ELOs in some way, shape, or form that best meets the needs of the community and its students. Local school boards have the sole legal authority to determine which educational opportunities earn credit in their schools. It is clear from the data collected by the Department of Education that local districts have indeed committed to developing and promoting extended learning opportunities.

“If the main purpose of Learn Everywhere is to provide more opportunities for students, a more helpful and legal mechanism would be to provide additional resources for districts –funding to support local ELO coordinators, for example, or funding to defeat other barriers (such as transportation) that may exist in some districts.”

The Department of Education noted in their survey report that the data request was issued without any prior notice to school districts and provided them with two weeks to submit their responses, with one of the weeks being a vacation week for many districts.

“Without any advance notice and despite the challenging time of year, school districts embraced the request as an opportunity to share the exciting work taking place in their schools,” the report stated.

Superintendent Witte wrote in her testimony that she directed her staff to complete the request, allowing them to work overtime to meet the deadline:

“The short time-frame for the ELO data collection request was challenging. As it was my understanding that it was essential to have this data and analysis complete in time for the March 14th State Board of Education meeting, I directed our i4see staff to delay other essential tasks and granted permission for overtime hours in order to meet the March 11th deadline.

“I attended the meeting on March 14th in anticipation of this data report. It was an incredible disappointment that the data collected and analyzed by the Department of Education was not presented, shared, discussed, or even referenced in any way at the meeting on March 14th given the sense of urgency and importance that was conveyed to those completing the data collection.”

The State Board of Education’s next meeting will be Thursday, April 11, and the Board has scheduled a discussion on the Learn Everywhere rules at 1 p.m. The State Board reminded everyone that they are still accepting public comment on the Learn Everywhere rules.

Reaching Higher NH will be live-streaming the State Board meeting on Facebook. Be sure to follow us to tune in!

What is an ELO?

Extended Learning Opportunities, or ELOs, are credit-bearing learning experiences that happen outside of the traditional classroom. They provide limitless options to deeply explore fields of study and career paths that students are passionate about, including those that may not be available through their school curriculum.

Educators, students, and community partners work together to develop an ELO that is relevant to each student and his or her course of study. Educators work with students and community partners to make sure that the ELO is rigorous and aligns with the student’s coursework. The educator also works with the student and community partner to set benchmarks for success and establish an effective method of assessment.

They offer students personalized, immersive learning opportunities across the state. From Winchester to Winnacunnet, Lebanon to Rochester, students all over the state are earning academic credit for rigorous, engaging experiences.

Spaulding High School in Rochester offers an ELO program that allows students to earn a certificate in advanced manufacturing through Great Bay Community College while earning credit for their high school diplomas. Hinsdale has used ELOs as a way to give students more opportunities for subjects that may not be offered in their smaller, rural high school:

“This district really put a priority on offering our children opportunities and personalizing education,” said [ELO coordinator Karen] Thompson. “We’re small. We can’t offer as many classes as a bigger school. And then they realized, we don’t need more classes.

Hypertherm and Fujifilm Dimatix, both advanced manufacturing companies in the Lebanon area, have partnered with Lebanon High School to offer rotations for students in engineering, manufacturing, business development, marketing, and other business areas. Defense contractors like BAE Systems and GE Aviation are partnering with schools to offer experiences in engineering and manufacturing.

Read more about ELOs in New Hampshire, including presentations by educators and students, here.

More information about ELOs around New Hampshire: