The Role of Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELOs) at Children’s Aid Society Community Schools Measurable Results from a 3-year Longitudinal Study

The Role of Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELOs) at Children’s Aid Society Community Schools Measurable Results from a 3-year Longitudinal Study
The Role of Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELOs) at Children’s Aid Society Community Schools Measurable Results from a 3-year Longitudinal Study


The American Youth Policy Forum announces a forum series, sponsored by the W.T. Grant Foundation, on Expanded Learning Opportunities for Older Youth.  This four-part forum series highlighted the most current research and key issues in the field, from the role of expanded learning opportunities in the community schools model to collaboration between secondary education providers and intermediary organizations, and program quality assessment and evaluation.  The series ran from February 2009-July and all forums took place on Capitol Hill, in Washington DC.


This forum, the first in a four-part series on Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELOs) for Older Youth sponsored by the W.T. Grant Foundation, provides information on a three-year longitudinal study of the 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) afterschool program at Children’s Aid Society Community Schools in New York City.  The Children’s Aid Society (CAS) provides health, mental health, afterschool, parent, Head Start and Early Head Start, weekend and summer programs in 18 New York City community schools.  The research study, conducted by ActKnowledge, Inc. in six of these schools, indicates an increase in academic achievement, higher attendance rates, and positive youth development for participants in the 21st CCLC afterschool program over nonparticipants.  The forum highlighted promising practices that support high quality ELOs for middle and high school students, including those used at the CAS’s Mirabal Sisters Campus. The term “expanded learning opportunity” is used to describe the range of programs and activities available to young people that occur beyond regular school hours. ELOs include traditional afterschool activities with an academic focus, but also incorporate activities such as internships with employers, independent study in alternative settings, classes on college campuses for high school students, and wraparound support services.

This series of forums on ELOs for Older Youth ran from February-July 2009 and highlighted the most current research and key issues in the field, from the role of ELOs in community schools to collaboration between secondary education providers and intermediary organizations, and program quality assessment and evaluation.

Katherine Eckstein, Director of Public Policy at the Children’s Aid Society (NY), began by providing background on CAS.  Founded in 1853, it is the largest and oldest child and family social welfare agency in New York City.  It serves 150,000 children and families in NYC through a range of approaches including adoption, foster care, preventive services, and child welfare; medical, mental health, and dental services; community centers; juvenile justice community re-entry and disconnected youth programs; and community schools.

The NYC public school system, with which CAS works closely, is the largest in the country with 1.1 million children and a budget of over $20 billion.  Since 2002, the school system has been under mayoral control, without a board of education.  Many new small schools where principals are given significant autonomy in exchange for increased accountability have been created.  Eckstein said a huge infusion of money to support reform efforts and the creation of new small schools came from an equity case that brought in billions of dollars in resources from the state.

Eckstein then provided a description of community schools and CAS’s role in their conceptualization and development.  CAS was a founding member of the Coalition for Community Schools.  Community schools have been embraced by entire school districts and are a concept or strategy for school design rather than a program.  Community schools are a place and a set of partnerships between schools and community resources based on the needs of the community and have an impact on both student and community outcomes.

CAS runs 18 community schools in NYC in Washington Heights, East Harlem, and the South Bronx.  These are located in four elementary schools, ten middle schools, one K-8 school, one 6-12 school, and two high schools.  In 1994, due to so many visitors coming to learn about how they were creating community schools, CAS launched the National Technical Assistance Center for Community Schools.  Since 1994, they have provided assistance to 40 cities, including 150 community schools in Chicago, Baltimore, and Portland.

Community schools are not just a collection of programs in discrete silos.  Instead, Eckstein called attention to a diagram of a triangle with each side representing a different aspect of community schools:  1) core instructional program; 2) educational and cultural enrichment; and 3) removing barriers to learning and development (by providing health, dental, mental health, and social services).  Community schools pay special attention to the ways in which the sides of the triangle connect, with children always in the center of the triangle.  Community School Directors help connect the sides of the triangle and rely heavily on partnerships to provide services. Sometimes partnerships are fueled by leveraging existing money that some schools cannot access without a partner.  For example, the school district cannot bill Medicaid for medical services, only a licensed health care partner can do so, and in that way, the schools can help their families get access to health care.

CAS is committed to evaluation and has built it into their work from the beginning.  The use of evaluation is not limited to sharing positive results; it also serves as a tool to improve practice.  For example, evaluations can help determine what motivates children and parents to participate, or what type of afterschool programming (a youth leadership council, drama club, or bike repair) is most effective.

Heléne Clark, Founder and Director of ActKnowledge (NY), presented the results of research on CAS community schools. The full report with details of the study and outcomes is available on the website  The study was conducted from 2004 to 2007 and asked the question, “Were children in the [21st CCLC after-school] program improving more than those who were not in the program in the areas of reading, math, and youth development?”  The sample size was 150-300 students per school in six CAS community schools that were also 21st Century Community Learning Centers.  The overall school population was 6,000 and was used as a comparison group.  Due to thorough data keeping in NYC, test scores and attendance records were available.

Results were highly positive.  For every year and every grade, for each school, for boys and for girls, a statistically significant increase was found in reading and math scores.  Members of the comparison group also participated in afterschool programs, but not as part of a coordinated community school effort.  The study also found that students in community school afterschool programs showed increased commitment to engaging in the community and increased self-esteem.  Both test score increases and positive youth development outcomes were found to be stronger the longer the students were in the programs, so that students in the program for all three years showed the most dramatic increases.

Eckstein commented on the results of the study.  She indicated that strong findings are likely due to the fact that CAS community schools represent an integrated and coordinated strategy.  CAS is deeply committed to quality programs, use of staff training, and self-assessment tools.  This is especially important to schools that have gone through a series of changes over the last several years.  In one case, one school was changed into three autonomous schools in one building.  Before becoming three schools, there were seven principals in a short period of time.  During a time of so much change, parents learned to rely on the CAS community school as a stabilizing factor, because the school consistently provided help on where and how to get social and health services.

Clark noted that an important finding is that regular participation increases outcomes on reading and math.  Specifically, in Year One, she said that youth had increases in reading and math test scores from basic to proficient levels.  In Year Two, youth in CAS were just about equal to youth in any afterschool program on moving from basic to proficient, but much better on improving scores from remedial to basic.  Test preparation and help with homework contributed to this success.


Marinieves Alba-Hernaiz, Community School Director, Mirabal Sisters Campus (NY), described the schools in which she works.  There are three schools with 300-460 students per school.  Demographically the schools are 83-92 percent Latino, 6-16 percent African American or African students, and 8-12 percent newly-arrived immigrants.  All the students are from Latin America, the Dominican Republic, or West Africa.  Almost the entire student body, 99-100 percent, receives free lunch.  Running a community school program demands creativity and adaptability, said Alba-Hernaiz.  Of the 1,200 students served, 975 receive health services, 226 are in traditional afterschool programs, 170 participate in a pregnancy prevention program, and 50 receive on-going mental health services.  An adult learning institute involves 250 parents in a variety of classes from GED preparation, literacy and English language instruction to culinary arts, curtain making, and events planning.  Adults are assisted in setting up home-based businesses.  In fact, there are four bakeries near the school established by parents who took cake decorating and baking classes, said Alba-Hernaiz.

Community schools take a holistic approach to children and families, and there is a direct impact on academics at the school.  Afterschool academic support instruction is more personalized and given to groups of five, 10, or 15 children, instead of 35 children in a school classroom.  Medical, dental, and vision services are available at the school or across the street.  Because services are convenient and efficient, students do not miss school.  In addition, getting medical check-ups can improve academic achievement.  For example, one student demonstrated behavioral issues, which was traced to the fact that the child had vision problems and could not see the blackboard.  Once the student received glasses, behavior improved.

The Mirabal Sisters community schools are open five days a week, from 8am-10 pm, with scheduled programming for students from 3-6 pm, offering a hot supper, one hour of homework help, and one and a half hours of enrichment.  After the children’s evening programs, 6-10 pm is available for adult programming.  Connections to influential partners have special benefits.  Through a partnership with NASA’s space camp in Turkey, eight children who participated in the afterschool program were able to travel to Turkey for the camp.  The Alvin Ailey dance school provides afterschool and Saturday programming and summer camp experiences.

Teachers and principals do not always live in the neighborhood, but the CAS staff members usually do and are often alumni of the schools where they are now employed.  Approximately 65 percent of the staff members are from the community.  This factor and the welcoming climate of community schools provide greater opportunities for socialization and improved relationships among teachers, school aides, administrators, parents, and children.  If a family is homeless or a parent has lost his/her job, he/she can feel comfortable coming to the office rather than feeling isolated or ashamed, related Alba-Hernaiz.  Often parents receive gift cards or help with purchasing school uniforms to provide monetary assistance during tight economic times. Nurses, social workers, and afterschool counselors talk about children’s needs with principals and teachers, and together they develop a strategy to address the needs.  While some principals do not always consider community schools a priority, it should be noted that community schools bring in substantial resources by providing access to partners and services.

Eckstein wrapped up the panel with some examples of high quality programming and policy implications.  High quality programs include youth development, academic enrichment, and hands-on learning rather than worksheets. She added that schools cannot educate children alone and society as a whole has to take responsibility for children.  Eckstein urged support for 1) increases in 21st Century Community Learning Communities programs; 2) attention to community schools and their lessons learned in the reauthorization of ESEA; and 3) building on the sympathies of the new Secretary of Education for community schools. There is increased interest in creating community schools and of the $5 million authorized for community schools, 500 applicants applied for only 10 grants.  Other proposed acts to support community schools include the Full-Service Community Schools Act, the Parent and Community Engaged Act, and the We Care Act that would provide incentives for communities and schools to work together.

Highlights from the Question and Answer Session

A two-part question was asked regarding whether reading and math proficiency outcomes were measured at the K-3 level and if there have been findings regarding early grade truancy.  Panelists responded that the NYC school system was surprised by the results of a recent review of its comprehensive data system showing chronic early absenteeism involving 90,000 elementary school students per month.  Community schools could be a means to investigate the causes of absenteeism rather than making assumptions, such as blaming the parents.  The problem could be housing, healthcare, or other causes.  In one example in East Harlem, asthma attack prevention efforts increased attendance.  ActKnowledge, Inc.’s 2008-2011 elementary school study will look at the issue of early grade absenteeism.

A second question addressed the rigor of the research design.  To the questioner, it did not seem as if a matched comparison group was used, introducing the issue of a self-selection bias.  Was the group in the study more academically oriented than the group used for comparison?  Clark indicated that there is a possibility of bias in that the program participants were accepted on a first-come, first-served basis, but added that the research took this into account in identifying an appropriate comparison group.  They looked at where students started in reading and math scores, attendance, and percent of English language learners.  The full research report describes the comparison group in detail and confirms that students throughout the school are highly similar whether in the study group or comparison group.  Some sub-group comparisons were used as well.

A third question related to transition issues from middle school to high school and high school to college.  Alba-Hernaiz replied that there is a middle school to high school transition program for all participants and that students participate in a college transition program called Excel.  In addition, there are workshops and special training for students and families on public speaking, life skills, college applications, help with Regents’ exams, and scholarships.

A fourth question was about whether the mentors and teachers in community schools mirror the culture and ethnicity of the children and about how cultural issues are included in the curriculum.  Alba-Hernaiz replied that 65 percent of the program staff members are school alumni who are Dominican or African American.  Afterschool staff members are all people of color, while the school day teachers are primarily Caucasian.  Cultural awareness is a core value of the afterschool program as shown in the curriculum and in field trips to museums and other sites.

The next question was on how these community school strategies can be taken to scale, especially given the limited number of partners available.  Eckstein replied that although NYC has not gone to scale with community schools, other cities have.  Going to scale entails both challenges and opportunities.  In a way, it is easier to go to scale with a community school approach because the work can be spread among partners.  A large scale program provides efficiency and can improve effectiveness.  An entity like CAS with a great deal of experience on building such partnerships can make it easier.  Having the mayor in charge of schools has made some partnerships easier, such as involving health services and braiding funding streams in interesting and innovative ways without getting territorial about funding.  The federal government could be helpful in providing more incentives to develop community schools.

Another audience member asked how does one know which strategy to implement to improve test scores?  Is health more important?  Or providing school lunch?  The answer was that one size does not fit all.  Community schools can be particularly instrumental in finding out what the problem really is, rather than just guessing or asking the children.  Community school staff members get to know the parents and conduct assessments child by child.

There was a question on how community schools can be implemented in rural areas.  CAS has primarily worked with urban schools, but the Coalition for Community Schools and Heléne Clark each have experience with rural schools.  Part of the answer is to shift the way schools think about parents to considering each parent and each member of the community as a partner and resource.  Clark described a rural community learning center in Quebec, Canada, currently being evaluated by Westat, where partners are flown in by helicopter.


A participant asked if CAS was worried that schools will call themselves community schools when they really are not and that, if they fail, people will think the concept does not work.  Eckstein acknowledged there is a danger of people just using the name because there is money attached.  As with other programs, there are those of low quality and those of high quality.  However, the important thing is to have a common definition of the essential components of community schools, for example, that partners must include the principal and school district.  Clark reiterated that, as a researcher, it is critical to know how and what was done and what the outcomes were, not what it was called.



Heléne Clark, Ph.D., Director, ActKnowledge, Inc., is the founder and director of ActKnowledge, a social enterprise located at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.   ActKnowledge works with non-profit organizations and foundations engaged in efforts to bring about social change.  Through research and evaluation aligned with capacity-building to use learning and knowledge, Dr. Clark brings social science research into partnership with practitioners, activists and policy-makers.  ActKnowledge is a leader in the development and use of Theory of Change methodology which is a participatory approach to developing conceptual frameworks for programs, policies and evaluations.  Dr. Clark has been the principal investigator for evaluation of numerous initiatives attempting to transform community institutions as well as national and international social justice movements.

For the last ten years, Dr. Clark as served as lead evaluator for The Children’s Aid Society’s community school initiative, participated in development of national outcomes and indicators with the Coalition for Community Schools and served on the advisory board of several community school initiatives, including Quebec, UK, and the U.S.

Prior to creating ActKnowledge, Dr. Clark was Associate Director of the Center for Human Environments for ten years.  She has a Bachelor’s degree in urban geography from Barnard College and a doctorate in Environmental Psychology from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.  Dr. Clark serves on the Board of a Housing Conservation Coordinators in New York City, and has taught courses in urban geography, environmental psychology and social science research methods.

Katherine Eckstein, is the Director of Public Policy at The Children’s Aid Society (CAS), one of New York City’s oldest and largest youth-serving organizations.  CAS serves more than 100,000 children a year by providing them with comprehensive services that aim to fill the gaps between what children have and what they need in order to become healthy, happy, successful adults.  Katherine holds primary responsibility for developing, coordinating and implementing CAS’s public policy agenda and advocacy strategy at the local, state and national levels.  Key areas include education, health, child welfare, youth development, juvenile justice and anti-poverty initiatives.

Katherine’s expertise is in education, community schools and youth development.  Before becoming Director of Public Policy, she worked for The Children’s Aid Society’s National Technical Assistance Center for Community Schools, advocating for an increase in the number of effective, long-term partnerships between public schools and other community resources.  Previous to joining Children’s Aid, Katherine served as Special Assistant to the Regional Superintendent in charge of the three school districts in New York City, comprised of 139 schools (PreK-12 continuum) and approximately 100,000 children in the East and South Bronx.   Before working at the NYC Department of Education, Katherine was Director of Adult and Family Programs and Interim Executive Director at Playing2Win, the nation’s first community technology center.  Katherine has her B.A. in Public Policy from Brown University and her M.A. in Elementary Education from Teachers College, Columbia University.

Marinieves Alba-Hernaiz is the Community School Director for the Children’s Aid Society’s Mirabal Sisters Campus, where she served previously as Program Director.  She has worked as an independent arts and education consultant since 2000, and has worked in after-school education for over 8 years.  She has received awards from the GAEA Foundation, Open Society Institute, NY Foundation, and Picower Foundation, for her work in the arts, education and social justice, and is a 2006 graduate of the NALAC Arts Leadership Institute.  Ms. Alba holds degrees from Wesleyan University and New York University’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.


AYPF Publication: Learning Around the Clock



Heléne Clark, Ph.D., 
365 Fifth Avenue, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10016

Katherine Eckstein
Director of Public Policy
The Children’s Aid Society
105 E. 22nd Street, Suite 02
New York, NY 10010
917-286-1554 (office)

Marinieves Alba, M.PA
Community School Director
Mirabal Sisters Campus-Children’s Aid Society
21 Jumel Place, Room D-106
New York, NY 10032
Tel: 646-867-6066
Fax: 212-928-5863


The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.