Phillip Potenziano is superintendent of Brunswick schools.

The grass is turning green, flowers are blooming, and seniors are in the homestretch of their high school careers. I see smiles, high fives and a little extra spring in the step of our soon-to-be-graduates, similar to the excitement my classmates and I shared many years ago.

While the senior swagger is similar, there is a significant difference between today’s seniors and those of days past. This group is better prepared to leave the Brunswick High School nest and join the real world, and one of the reasons is extended learning opportunities.

What is an ELO?

Extended learning opportunities are highly personalized, hands-on learning experiences that take place outside of the traditional classroom. They complement classroom work by teaching students many of the important skills that are necessary to succeed in today’s world.

ELOs may include independent study, volunteering, tutoring, internships, work-based learning, community service or even online courses. Some students complete an ELO in organized sports or arts programs by working behind the scenes to see how the administrative side operates.

The educational experience offered by the Brunswick School Department strongly focuses on bridging the gap between graduating from high school and what is to come next – whether that is employment, apprenticeship, a training program, a gap year, community college or a four-year university. ELOs help fill this important niche and continue to grow in popularity. BSD is one of 26 programs across 13 Maine counties offering ELOs, and they are supported by $5.6 million in state grants.


To qualify for an ELO, a student must submit an application that asks how they became interested in the subject and what motivated them to pursue it through an ELO. They are also asked what knowledge or skills they want to learn or improve and the desired levels of knowledge, fluency or expertise they seek.

Rick Wilson, BHS community liaison, and Molly Myers, BHS career exploration coordinator, tell me that ELOs at Brunswick High School range from exploring careers in engineering to a student-run tutoring program for New Mainers. Students are also creating a podcast about their favorite books and reinventing school design and programs around social and emotional learning. Wow!

Effective learning tools

In addition to building skills – such as critical thinking, taking responsibility for follow-up and follow-through, communicating and working with adults, and sending an appropriate email – participants also gain a better understanding of career opportunities in a particular field. For example, a student who really enjoys science classes could meet a researcher or chemist to learn about various pathways and career options in that specific field.

There is a vast world out there and ELOs are an excellent conduit for showing our students some of the amazing avenues open to them. And as an educator, there’s no better feeling than knowing a student is learning, growing and preparing for a future beyond high school.

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