The TPF EdExplore project began in January 2010 with a goal voiced by Superintendent Lori White that experiential learning becomes part of every student’s Sarasota legacy. Provider Executives passionately shared Lori’s vision.
The summer provider survey reporting 2015–16 explorations, demonstrates that hands-on and community-based learning are indeed becoming part of the district’s DNA.
Sustainability and continuous improvement are core TPF values: EdExplore exemplifies these. The Community Partnership manages EdExploreSRQ.com under the direction of Sue Meckler, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction and Angela Hartvigsen, Program Manager. The Partnership includes the Sarasota School District, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, the Science and Environment Council of Southwest Florida and TPF.
Twenty-nine out of 34 providers responded. Primary disciplines include science, social studies, and language arts. Providers have taken their arts, cultural and science explorations and embedded priority subjects in unique ways. There’s only a few career oriented providers; the Education Foundation of Sarasota County is leading the expansion of these explorations.
Providers understand that transportation costs and time away from campus challenge teachers; for that reason, there is an equal number of on and off-campus explorations. This shift recognizes the benefits of getting students out to venues but also the practical time constraints.
Some 106,000 student experiences were reported — up from 104,000 in the 2013–14 survey. Every public and charter school had nine or more providers compared to seven in the last one. With the new lengthy testing period this year, the number was impressive.
Access to explorations by Title 1 and South County schools is a continual concern. We found that Title I schools are extensively using explorations with 13–18 providers. South County schools have similar student experiences with 11–17 providers.
Any Given Child Sarasota headed by Brian Hersh has worked to leverage explorations for grade wide experiences. Think of a community where every third grader has access to a professional ballet company, fourth graders to a professional orchestra and a world-class museum. Every fifth grader can learn about patriotic service and the arts at Patriot’s Plaza.
Embracing Our Differences continues to lead in the number of student experiences with 34 participating schools at all levels. Their innovative Make a Day partnership adds many student explorations and addresses transportation constraints.
Elementary students comprise 60% of the student experiences with middle and high school at 25%; public charter schools comprise 15% of the experiences.
We asked about experiences with EdExploreSrq.com. Most said it was easy or somewhat easy to use. A new 3.0 EdExplore launched in August 2016 addressed the recommendations for improving the website.
Providers reported the following benefits:
1) EdExplore posting helped promote offerings
2) More teachers accessed the programs
3) Better Aligned Curriculum
(4) Better access to grant funds through the CFSC and the Education Foundation.
The top 3 challenges to maintaining or increasing student access to explorations include: (1) school testing dates
(2) school time constraints
The Partnership concentrated on marketing and communications with teachers this school year. Compared to the last survey teacher awareness dropped out of top challenges. With 200 new teachers this year, marketing will continue to be needed.
We asked about funding sources for explorations. Eighteen reported funding from Foundation and teacher grants with a mix of PTO, student fees, and provider support providing the balance.
The survey results give us new insights and recommendations to address, but also time to pause, reflect and celebrate all that the providers and partners do to inspire our students. Numbers are great, but it’s the many anecdotes we hear from teachers, principals, and providers that let us know that together we are “bringing learning to life”.