“Think. Play. Serve.” This is the mantra that inspires our Expanded Learning programs, which provides opportunities for students to build their skills and connect with peers outside of the classroom. Through our work with community partners we have built safe, engaging, and student-centered learning experiences—at no cost to our families. Expanded Learning is one way we accomplish this goal, and it’s also one of several programs that we have adapted to serve students during distance learning.
Our traditional Expanded Learning program is powered by key partners, including arc, Educare Foundation, Woodcraft Rangers, and the Just Keep Livin Foundation. Each partner creates unique educational content, provides homework support, facilitates dozens of clubs, and connects hundreds of our middle and high school students together. Our schools in Tennessee have increased their enrichment opportunities through partnerships with the University of Memphis, FedEx, Amazon, and CodeCrew.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has tested the traditional ways of connection in our vulnerable communities, our schools were prepared. During the spring, our school leaders narrowed the digital divide by securing Chromebooks and mobile hotspots for all Green Dot students, which allowed us to further invest in a Virtual Expanded Learning program. By March of 2020, we had built an interactive digital platform equipped with new media resources, virtual tours, and all-live clubs—and it’s still growing.
“Since the spring semester, our Expanded Learning program has doubled the amount of content and video lessons available to our students,” said David Nunez, Coordinator of Expanded Learning and Student programs for Green Dot schools across California. “We created a space where our partners can communicate with students in a safe way.”
So far, over 60 all-live clubs are available to students through Virtual Expanded Learning. Each of these clubs resembles their counterparts on physical campuses. Students on pre-existing rosters were transferred to the virtual clubs, and new students can sign up for any existing expanded learning club through their Advisory classes.“Our programs are very much about relationship building. We want them to talk, share, and think,” Nunez said.
These virtual clubs include “DIY Tuesdays,” “Drivers Education,” and “Songs on Repeat,” which all meet throughout the week via Zoom, and hold week-long written discussions over Google Classroom. Students also have access to the self-guided sessions that range from weekly virtual field trips, downloadable e-resources including books and movies, links to homework assistance, and access to external writing and visual art competitions.
Virtual Expanded Learning also connects students with other Green Dot students through network-wide initiatives. In collaboration with the Special Education Program, the Expanded Learning team has created a virtual version of Leaders Looking Out, our peer mentorship program for students with disabilities. Expanded Learning has also collaborated with The African American Achievement in Equity initiative to create topical content for our students.
This year, students will launch a virtual Rainbow Initiative, where students in Gender-Sexuality Alliance clubs across our network will be able to connect and participate in virtual events. In 2019, the Rainbow Initiative held its first pride prom and this year Virtual Expanded Learning is working with students and educators to host the event online.
At Green Dot, we are committed to providing a high quality education beyond the physical bounds of the classroom to expose our students to enriching opportunities that allow them to develop and strengthen the skills they need to succeed in college, leadership, and life. As we continue to lead the way in distance learning, we are innovating new ways to serve our students in digital environments.