Expanded Learning Groups Pledge Over $600 Million Dollars to Boost Middle School Education

Over the next five years, 20 education-based organizations from across the nation will collectively invest more than $620 million to enhance learning for over 1.3 million 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th graders through the new Expanded Learning Middle School Initiative. The announcement will be made at the White House today at its Next Gen High School Summit, a national conversation on transforming high schools to better serve 21st century high school students.

“The expanded learning model proves that middle school students enter high school with a greater chance of graduating and going to college, especially in low-income communities where there is a greater opportunity gap,” said Steven M. Rothstein, CEO of Citizen Schools, who appeared at the White House summit to announce funding for the new initiative. “Providing academic enrichment in subjects like STEM and access to mentors who are scientists, engineers and doctors gives students a chance to imagine themselves in those careers and motivates them to succeed in college and beyond.”

Spark, a national nonprofit, re-engages underserved seventh and eighth grade students, keeping them on track and ready for success in high school and beyond through workplace-based apprenticeships that uniquely combine mentoring, project-based learning, skill building and career exploration.  Supported by more than 80 hours of powerful, hands-on programming, 89% of Spark students enter ninth grade on track to graduate on time, compared to 70% of their peers.

"Success in high school relies heavily upon students' engagement during the middle grades," said Jason Cascarino, CEO of Spark.  "When we tailor seventh and eighth grade learning to meet students' developmental needs, they build the non-cognitive skills and social capital to transition well into high school highly prepared for the rigors ahead."

Data shows middle school students who take part in expanded learning programs are more likely to reach their full potential:
• Student participants show 2.5 times more interest in STEM fields
• 71% of students who participate graduate from high school on time, compared to 59% of their peers who do not participate
• 61% of the students who participate enroll in college, compared to 41% of students who do not participate

Every 26 seconds a student drops out of school. Data supports the value of focusing on middle school students in order to impact attendance, grades, test scores and behavior in middle school, which educators say predict students’ performance in high school and their odds of graduating.

Twenty organizations, in collaboration with After School Alliance, created The Expanded Learning Middle School Initiative. These include:
● After-School All Stars
● Aim High
● Building Educated Leaders for Life (BELL)
● Citizen Schools
● Classroom, Inc.
● Every Hour Counts
● ExpandED Schools
● Family League of Baltimore
● Harlem RBI
● High Jump
● Higher Achievement
● Horizons National
● Middle Grades Partnership
● STEMconnector® / MillionWomenMentors®
● National Center on Time & Learning
● Partnership for Children & Youth
● Spark
● Sprockets
● YMCA of the USA

Their $620 million investment over the next five years is supported by corporate and philanthropic donations, including funding from foundations, individual supporters, and some existing public grants. But, the consortium says, to ensure all middle school children are fully prepared to participate in a true 21st century high school experience, public funding is necessary to scale evidence-based best practices and programs.


Spark inspires 7th, 8th and 9th grade students to succeed in high school and beyond by connecting them with mentors in leading workplaces and supporting their academic journey with skill-building and resources. By engaging working professionals and connecting businesses with local communities, Spark empowers the next generation to perform better in school, graduate on time and lead fulfilling careers and lives.

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