Leveraging Learning on the Fifth Day - And the Journey Continues

June 12, 2018 by Antonio Parés

What We’re Learning

Just over a year ago, the Donnell-Kay Foundation (DK), and our philanthropic partners, launched a grant and an initiative aimed at learning about and working with Colorado communities that are utilizing a four-day school week. Since then, our five partner communities have piloted courses based on the interests and passions of youth, outdoor learning experiences, project-based learning, job shadowing, and creative arts experiences led by community-based providers.


Community partners engaged in a human-centered design process that was collaboratively conducted with both youth and community members. DK believes this type of process can lead to and has resulted in the creation of responsive learning experiences – ones sparked and driven by youth, and that leverage community resources and assets. These programs are demonstrating what is possible when learning is decoupled from our current institutions of education and instead centered on youth and their community.

Our community partners’ pilots have concluded, and DK has some key takeaways:

•    The more successful programs put youth at the center or positioned youth to drive the design of the program, and even played a role in implementation.
-    In Campo, 8th and 9th graders led the entire process from empathy interviews to fifth day program implementation. This student-owned process led to strong student buy-in, which was reflected in attendance rates that hovered between 50% and 85% of the district's total enrollment.

•    The more successful programs leveraged community resources and assets to bring about a robust and relevant fifth day for youth and community.
-    In La Junta, fifth day activities are hosted and led by community organizations such as state and county parks, the county mental health department, and the local library. This means youth are accessing and utilizing more community resources – a win-win.

•    The fifth day is a space where local nonprofits, businesses, and community members can add value to local education.
-    East Grand School District partnered with Colorado-based nonprofit Resource Area for Teachers to bring a mobile maker space to targeted schools. East Grand has received strong and positive feedback from both youth and RAFT around their hands-on, project-based learning pilot.

DK has come to view the fifth day (and the out-of-school time space more broadly) as a blank canvas, where communities (and even the education sector at large) can build and test alternative learning experiences that are driven by youth and informed by community. We might find that these learning experiences offer a solution for what plagues not just rural districts, but “schooling” more broadly.

The Opportunity

The fifth day and other out-of-school time spaces (summer, after-school, and weekends) are unencumbered by education politics (e.g. teachers union vs. education reform) and rigid state accountability structures (e.g. standards and assessments). This leaves communities  free to engage in the type of learning that often feels undervalued in the traditional system: play-based learning, place-based education, and career preparation.

The fifth day is a space of non-consumption, where passions, assets, and creativity reign supreme. This is an incredible opportunity not just to pilot innovative ideas, but also to build out and enhance the parallel out-of-school time “system,” which can be a bridge to the structured school-based learning that happens during the other four days of the week.

The need for such a bridge and space has become more necessary in the face of a rapidly evolving world. Today’s youth will have jobs not yet in existence and will interact with technologies that have not yet been invented, so we need a nimble and responsive “system” that can interact with youth, outside learning providers, businesses, and new technologies, and be informed by communities both place-based and virtual.

The fifth day is that space, and rural communities are well positioned to take advantage of it. Rural communities’ resourcefulness, willingness to try innovative solutions and strategies, and openness to collaboration has set them up to leverage learning on the fifth day, and the out-of-school time space.

What’s Next

This summer, DK will add one to two more communities to our cohort of 4DSW innovators. We will ask partners to commit to a few things as they join us in designing, testing, and scaling new ideas, programs, and strategies:

•    Fully adopting a human-centered design process that focuses on designing from the margins.

•    Putting youth at the center of program design and making them key members of the design and implementation teams.

•    Bringing a diverse set of community partners to the table to support design and prototyping.

•    A desire to think outside of current paradigms (such as the K-12 system).

•    A willingness to take risks, pilot ideas, and pivot.

•    An ability and earnest desire to build a responsive and accessible program for all participants.

This is no ordinary grant process. Instead, DK and our philanthropic partners are convening and supporting a network of communities, educators, nonprofits, and youth that see the fifth day as an opportunity, not a deficit, and believe that there is no better time than now to leverage this opportunity.

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