City Leaders Address Challenges to Building Citywide Afterschool Systems

July 2, 2012

Tim Mudd

As detailed in a recent study published by NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families (YEF Institute), cities across the country are making a fundamental shift in their approach to afterschool programming, moving from management and funding of isolated programs toward in-depth collaboration across numerous stakeholders and program providers.

The emergence of comprehensive, citywide afterschool systems reflects a growing recognition among city leaders of the importance of afterschool programs to confronting local challenges such as public safety and helping children and youth succeed in school.

At a recent meeting in New York City sponsored by The Wallace Foundation, nine cities that are among the most advanced in their efforts to coordinate afterschool opportunities for children and youth discussed challenges and opportunities to building effective afterschool systems. Participating cities were Baltimore, Denver, Fort Worth, Grand Rapids, Jacksonville, Louisville, Nashville, Philadelphia and Saint Paul. Each of the nine cities has been awarded multi-year grants by The Wallace Foundation to support implementation of their local efforts to build or expand management information systems to track data on program participation and its connection to learning outcomes in school, as well as improve quality of programs.

City staff and their local partners underscored the challenges to linking disparate afterschool program providers within a collaborative framework of shared outcomes and accountability.

"Partnerships are challenging," said Will Miller, President of The Wallace Foundation. "There's a ‘tax' that must be acknowledged, in terms of the extra time and effort it takes to coordinate, but the payoffs can be enormous."In addition to resource constraints, communication barriers between local stakeholders can make it difficult to establish a common agenda and reach agreement on what outcome measures constitute success.

"The first step is to establish trust and develop a collective vision," said Darrell Aniton, Director of the Office of Youth Development for Louisville Metro government. "The work and time has to be put forth on the front end."

The participating cities agreed that developing a shared vision, along with a set of processes and procedures are key steps to creating an efficient system of coordinated decision making. City leaders also stressed the importance of data and research-based decision making to sustaining efforts.As part of the initiative, the nine cities are participating in a learning network facilitated by the YEF Institute. Through the initiative cities will work on a variety of projects to increase access to afterschool programming, improve quality and collect and analyze data to drive decision making and better communicate the impact of afterschool programming. Some cities will work to develop an online program locator to help families find programs that meet their needs, adopt quality standards and/or utilize assessment tools to measure program quality. Other cities will work to integrate multiple data systems, strengthen the governance structure of their system and/or work to create joint professional development opportunities for school and afterschool staff.

For over a decade, in partnership with The Wallace Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the YEF Institute has worked with hundreds of cities to build knowledge, promote cross-city learning and assist local leaders in developing coordinated approaches to afterschool.

Details: To learn more about NLC afterschool resources and initiatives, visit www.nlc.org/iyef or contact Kim Eisenreich at (202) 626-3035 or eisenreich@nlc.org. For more information on the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation's and The Wallace Foundation's support of afterschool efforts, go to www.mott.org and www.wallacefoundation.org.