Thursday, July 1, 2010
I haven’t posted anything here in quite a while--too busy with teaching and state library work. But I did want to share information gathered at an excellent webinar I attended earlier this week. Sponsored by the National League of Cities and the Wallace Foundation, the 1.5 hour session was called “City Leadership for Neighborhood-Based Afterschool Systems.” The topic was AfterZones, a highly successful after-school program offered in Providence, RI. The program has also been successfully replicated in Nashville, TN.
So what are AfterZones and why are they so effective?
The program is based on a “neighborhood campus” structure where after-school services are provided at multiple agencies (e.g., public libraries, recreational centers, art centers, etc.) in geographically clustered areas. Programs are offered 2.5 hours a day, four days a week, in the fall, winter and spring. A short four-week summer version was introduced in 2008.
The target audience is middle-schoolers, who are transported directly from school to the various agencies linked through the program. After spending an hour of intentional “learning time”—where they focus on homework, educational games, or other academic enrichment projects—the kids engage in arts, life skills or sports-related activities, depending on the agency. At libraries, they use computers and participate in reading-based programs. After-school program providers apply to become AfterZone sites. If successful, the site receives up to $5000 per year to cover program expenses. Overall, the entire AfterZones program costs approximately $1000 per student.
The program is managed by an AfterZones coordinator; but the real backbone is PASA (the Providence After School Alliance), a citywide nonprofit network responsible for registering students and tracking their participation. They also schedule transportation, which is a major element in empowering kids to select after-school programs that appeal to their interests. Although a study of AfterZone outcomes won’t be published until next year, proponents are already speculating that the program appeals particularly to young adolescents' desire for greater independence. Indeed, nearly 50% of Providence middle-schoolers have opted to participate in the AfterZone program.
There are three main reasons the program has been so successful thus far:
1. AfterZones have had active support from the city’s mayor, who was instrumental in developing the program’s goals. As mayor, he was able to bring key city players together to plan the initiative and leverage commitments from city departments and the school district. He also worked closely with PASA.
2. Strong leadership from PASA, which cultivated relationships among 100 agencies by focusing on capacity-building and collaboration. All decisions were data-driven.
3. Effective use of youthservices.net, a web-based tracking tool that meets the data collection, service management and program evaluation needs of the youth services sector. PASA used youthservices.net to keep tabs on enrollment and attendance, allowing them to make data-based decisions about future program-providers, etc.
Not all aspects of the program have been successful, however. Challenges encountered include:
1. Not all agencies have fully embraced the AfterZone concept. While PASA hoped the individual sites would eventually assume responsibility for completing some of the management tasks, this has not yet happened due, in part, to the economic downturn and lack of resources. More funding is required to make the overall program sustainable.
2. Providing off-campus programs is extremely expensive, especially when factoring in the cost of transportation. Still, some experiences just aren’t available in school (e.g., art activities or learning about sea creatures at the marina) and so PASA will continue to look to the community for educational support.
3. Although sixth- and seventh-graders are enthusiastic about the program, enrollment drops off significantly in eighth grade, possibly because of increased responsibilities at home. More research is needed here. Fairs, where students can see firsthand what each after-school site offers, have been the most effective recruitment method.
4. To financially sustain the program, PASA must show that AfterZones are an integral part of middle-school education. A three-year grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation will be used to more closely link AfterZones to school-day learning.
For more information about the program, please see AfterZones: Creating a Citywide System to Support and Sustain High-Quality After-School Programs.