Update on Our Journey to Leveraging the Fifth-Day

October 23, 2017 by Antonio Parés

Over a year ago the Donnell-Kay Foundation began a journey to learn more about the 90 plus school districts across Colorado that utilize a four-day school week (4DSW). We began this journey in Idaho, where we engaged with national policy leaders and partners such as the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and the J.A. and Kathryn Albertsons Foundation. Paul Hill, founder of CRPE and research professor at University of Washington, had been studying the four-day school week in Idaho and presented his findings and concerns around a 4DSW. Though his findings raised many questions, for us it spurred one essential question: what type of opportunities might this “extra day” provide students, families, and communities?

Since then DK has traveled more than 1400 miles across Colorado to visit and learn from communities solving for the shortened week. Those learnings led to the conceptualization, design, and launching of a grant aimed at sparking more locally developed solutions. Leveraging the 5th Day was born.

Below is a summary of our experiences and learnings thus far through the lens of people, process, and potential.

DK connected with and heard from numerous Coloradans that had developed or were looking to develop their own solutions to the 4DSW: a wood working shop in Peyton, outdoor leadership and survival skill development in Oak Creek, student driven courses in Campo, and a comprehensive, out-of-school time program in Lamar. Regardless of where in Colorado, we saw the same thing repeatedly: people with strong community awareness, a willingness to partner, and an ability to innovate.

DK believes that leaders and community members embodying these characteristics are crucial to the success of fifth-day programs. To be successful these programs must continuously evolve based on the needs of students and partners while leveraging the assets of their communities, and keeping the programming relevant now and well into the future.

Leveraging the 5th Day launched with an RFP that netted 32 applications representing 27 towns and school districts across Colorado. From there DK selected eight to participate in a two-month process of learning and prototyping. Applicants received training at a one-day workshop on design thinking and were provided additional coaching and supports once back home. Over the next two months applicants interviewed and surveyed students, built partnerships, collaboratively designed solutions that leveraged local assets, and prototyped fifth-day programs. This resulted in a community designed, fifth-day pilot for the 2017/2018 school year.

DK intentionally utilized a design process led by communities. Working in partnership with local residents and students, who ultimately identify the solutions that work best within their own context, is a tool for philanthropy and community empowerment that DK is interested in learning from and continuing to utilize (more to come on this topic in future posts).

The fifth-day is free of predetermined academic standards, seat time, and mandated assessments. Instead it’s a space where resources and creativity are the only two limiting factors. Apprenticeships in Pueblo could lead to hundreds of good paying jobs over the next five years. Mental health supports in La Junta could lead to healthier and happier elementary school students. Maybe something is created that nobody could predict such as the development of a new mobile application that betters the health outcomes for rural Coloradans. Regardless, the potential for authentic learning that meets the unique needs of both students and their communities is high.

From a macro-level, we wonder what the fifth-day could mean for the other four days. Can these programs and their unique approaches inform how school districts do business? Can they lead to powerful partnerships and greater course variety? Can they provide experimental spaces that lead to the mainstreaming of tested and proven strategies? We here at DK sure hope that is the case.

What is next?
With the support of Gates Family Foundation and Louis Calder Foundation, five applicants were selected and awarded funding for the 2017/2018 school year: East Grand School District, Oak Creek/South Routt, Pueblo 70 School District/Rye, East Otero School District, and Campo. These communities will continue to receive support during early implementation. To provide additional help, DK and the Colorado Rural Education Collaborative have launched a genesis group that will allow for learning and partnership between 4DSW communities. We are also hoping to see more grants and funding opportunities open up as others come to see value in the fifth-day.

To learn more about Leveraging the 5th Day read our two most recent newsletters below or email Antonio Parés.

Contact Antonio