Gov. McKee announces new initiative to increase out-of-school learning
Learn365RI offers students additional 1 million hours of learning opportunities outside traditional 180-day school calendar
Gov. Dan McKee, seated at left, and Newport Mayor Xayhkam Khamsyvoravong sit at a table for a ceremonial signing of the Learn365 RI Municipal Compact in the gymnasium at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Newport County on Wednesday, April 12, 2023. Rhode Island Commissioner of Education Angélica Infante-Green is standing between the two. McKee wore his school bus tie for the occasion to launch the initiative to provide out-of-school learning opportunities for students beyond the traditional 180-day school year. (Photo by Janine L. Weisman/Rhode Island Current)
NEWPORT – One million hours. That’s the amount of out-of-school learning time Gov. Dan McKee told spectators at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Newport County Wednesday he wishes to offer Rhode Island students from kindergarten to grade 12 through a new program.
Announced on his 100th day in office, McKee used the occasion to sign the first Learn365RI Municipal Compact with Newport Mayor Xayhkam Khamsyvoravong. The agreement allows municipal leaders to commit to providing educational opportunities all year long instead of just during the traditional 180-day school schedule.
“Think about it,” McKee said in his speech announcing the initiative. “If just 20,000 Rhode Island students add about an hour per week of out-of-school learning, that right there equals one million hours.”
“Successfully meeting this threshold will drive increases in achievement so that by the end of the decade we will deliver best in class statewide academic achievement results,” he said. “And we know it can happen because in many cases, we have the puzzle pieces already. We just need to be strategic about how we put them together.”
A 2017 Rand Corporation Report found students who spend time in out-of-school learning programs experience significant advantages in cognitive development, are less likely to become involved in the criminal justice system, and perform better in school
McKee said the agreements that commit towns and cities in Rhode Island to working with the state to improve the number of and access to out-of-school learning programs.
The governor said that $4 million would be made through the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund, a U.S. Department of Education grant program funneled directly to governors offices to shore up education resources in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These dollars will help cities and towns coordinate, expand or enrich out-of-school learning opportunities remaining laser focused on improving student outcomes,” McKee said.
About 650,000 Rhode Island residents were represented by mayors and municipal leaders who already signaled support for the program, he said.
Success will be rated based on metrics such as student attendance, Free Application for Federal Student Aid completion rates, and Rhode Island Comprehensive Assessment System (RICAS) scores in English Language Arts and mathematics.
McKee added that a nonprofit organization, called Always Learning Rhode Island has been formed to assist municipal leaders with resources such as grants, services and other support for year-round out-of-school learning opportunities.
Joseph Pratt, executive director and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Newport County, welcomed McKee and other dignitaries to the Church Street clubhouse, which recently achieved its first five-star state accreditation for its licensed child care program serving up to 165 children ages 5 to 16. The governor’s school vacation week visit coincided with a mathematics enrichment program for two dozen campers as part of a partnership with Newport Public Schools.
Pratt called Newport a city with a “true dichotomy.”
“We have outstanding wealth,” Pratt said. “We’re also a community of staggering poverty.”
Almost 16% of the population of the city known for Gilded Age mansions and its hospitality industry lives in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A family of four in Rhode Island is considered impoverished if it makes $25,926 or less according to the Center for American Progress.
Mayor Khamsyvoravong pointed to last year’s RICAS scores which showed only 15% of the Newport students met or exceeded English Language Arts and Literacy expectations in 2022.
Khamsyvoravong asked the audience to “imagine trying to read about mitosis in a text book” without sufficient English literacy.
“Our community gets it,” Khamsyvoravong said. “What they need is the resources for deepening public engagement.”
Communication with parents will be key
While generally in support of the initiative as presented by the governor, Aïda G. Neary, director of community educational partnerships at Salve Regina University said she saw one area of concern.
“I’m a little concerned because I didn’t hear much about parents,” Neary said. “There’s a barrier there that no amount of money can overcome.”
While students in kindergarten through grade eight seemed to be the emphasis of McKee’s speech, high schoolers often need to get jobs to support their low-income parents, especially in single family homes, Neary said.
She added that some parents may not even want their children to participate in such programs and their benefit needs to be communicated effectively across the socioeconomic spectrum.
“That’s where they drop off,” she said.
Despite the program’s lofty ambitions, the governor said that to meet its goal of surpassing Massachusetts attendance, test scores, and Free Application for Federal Student Aid completion rates by the end of the decade, it’ll take time.
“This is not instant oatmeal,” McKee said. “It will take time, patience and a focused effort involving the entire community rallying behind our municipal leaders.”
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