Beyond School: Earning Credit for Real-World Experiences

On December 16th, Education Week hosted a Webinar entitled “Beyond School: Earning Credit for Real-World Experiences.” This Webinar discusses an extended learning opportunity (ELO) initiative involving Providence, Rhode Island school district and its nonprofit partner Providence After School Alliance (PASA). In selected high schools throughout the district, students participate in community programs for digital badges and course credit. The initiative focuses on secondary education alignment and the student acquisition of 21st century skills and good citizenship. In addition, middle school students are able to participate in afterschool hands-on learning and enrichment activities through a citywide expanded learning system.

Presenters included Alex Molina, deputy director of PASA, and Patrick Duhon, director of expanded learning for PASA. The Webinar was moderated by Caralee Adams, contributing writer for Education Week. 

In 2011, Providence partnered with PASA to provide out-of-school learning opportunities to 30 students in the district.  The initiative has reached 2 high schools, with plans to expand to four high schools and connect with 200 students in the next year. The project provides students with the opportunity to investigate and leverage their passions, gain real-world experience, and use technology and digital badges to recognize and process their learning.  Community programs provide professional exposure to students in the areas of business, community service, technology, and engineering.

To ensure student achievement in this endeavor, PASA has established an online community as a space for high-school students to maintain a portfolio of work, blog about weekly experiences, interact with faculty, and reflect on developing field or career interests.  Integrated within these sites are badges granted to students on the basis of demonstrated competencies. “Demo Day” is another opportunity for students to express what they have learned, and present to a room full of teachers, mentors, and field experts. The event provides feedback to participants while connecting experiential discovery and knowledge to their real-world applications.

PASA is working with Providence and a number of other school districts to determine the future agenda and goals of the initiative. Currently, students participating in the project are able to acquire high school credit in art, technology, health, and physical education. PASA is investigating ways to extend credit opportunities to core subjects using badges. In addition, PASA is looking for additional ways to align its work to high school curricula, including required projects and senior exhibitions. At the postsecondary level, PASA is engaged in conversations with community colleges around utilizing student information on its online platforms as a means to determine admissions status.  Beyond school, PASA intends to create more fluid links to career exploration and job opportunities.

Research has shown that student participants maintain higher attendance and behavior records compared to their non-participating peers. Additionally, 97% of middle-school students who have participated in the program for at least 50 days have graduated high school on time. PASA remains passionate about their ability to make a difference – to inspire, motivate and impassion students to achieve and succeed in school and beyond.

To access full Webinar content and information click here

Kathryn Balestreri is a research assistant with the College and Career Readiness and Success Center. 

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