Sheridan Preparatory Academy is an Albany public school that has invested deeply in building strong expanded learning programs for students. The school and its community partners started by putting student interests first, polling them to ask what activities and clubs they would like to participate in. They also wisely asked 5th graders what activities they didn’t have that would benefit the incoming 5th grade class.
The result? Abigail Gomes, Community School Site Coordinator, said “I got a very interesting list of clubs and activities! Understanding the academic needs of the building, I chose the top five suggestions from the students and laid out the connections in support of the S.M.A.R.T. goals in our building education plan. This way, students would receive clubs they asked for but the clubs would also support the work of our principal, Zuleika Sanchez-Gayle, and our Building Leadership Team in meeting our academic, behavior, and attendance goals.” Every club is run by a teacher or, if run by a community partner, has a teacher liaison to ensure alignment with instructional practices and standards. Ms. Gomes reports high student engagement in the activities, as well as a second benefit – increased parent engagement thanks to the unique after-school programming offered.
Sheridan Prep Academy works with a wide array of community partners to provide a rich array of programming as well as a wide range of role models for students. Partners include the Boys and Girls Club and YMCA, both of whom co-lead programs in the school, as well as Cornell Cooperative Extension, St. Peter’s Health Partners, and Tinker & Fiddle. The school also partners with dynamic community leaders, such as basketball coach Ian Pwell, who not only teaches the sport but builds strong relationships with the players and connects basketball with literacy. By working with The RED Bookshelf, Coach Ian and the school provide books for players as part of their #BooksBeforeTheBall initiative.
Partnerships can be both critical and challenging, so the Sheridan team worked closely with their partners through initial planning meetings and frequent discussions on scheduling, logistics, and district priorities. This has allowed them to ensure that all after-school activities, regardless of who runs them, follow the same attendance and behavior expectations as the school day. Ms. Gomes shared that while the partner program coordinators may not be district employees, “they are a part of our team, and I make it my duty to ensure that they are aware of everything administratively and logistically.” This allows their blended district/community partner team to course correct quickly and frequently when needed.
When asked what advice she would give to another community school launching its expanded learning program, Ms. Gomes said it starts with hearing from the students. “Really listen to them. Be very strategic and intentional in your planning. And, don’t be afraid to be transparent with your community partners about your needs.” Ms. Gomes also recommends making sure all stakeholders, including families, see how they fit into the expanded learning vision, and offering many opportunities for how they can get involved to support students’ academic, social, emotional, and physical growth.
Abigail Gomes, Sheridan Preparatory Academy Community School Site Coordinator