By Chris Kingsley
Last week, nearly 500 leaders from 57 communities descended on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to discuss the tremendous progress that has been made nationally in building citywide systems of high-quality afterschool programs. Local elected officials, school and city staff, nonprofit executives, community foundations and program providers all participated in a full day of peer exchange, workshops and reflection. Will Miller, president of The Wallace Foundation, facilitated an opening plenary that included Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s strong endorsement of the conference’s focus on measurable impact.
“When you love kids,” said Mayor Rawlings-Blake, “you have to hold the people responsible for serving them accountable.”
Laboratories for Success
In the two days prior to the national “Better Together: Building Local Systems to Improve Afterschool Programs” conference, nine city teams convened to receive focused training on strategies to improve coordination of local afterschool programs, with an emphasis on sharing data that can be used to improve student outcomes. The cities were selected last year by The Wallace Foundation to receive funding and technical assistance in building the “next generation” of citywide afterschool systems, with NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families (YEF Institute) coordinating the project.
Now a year into their work, multi-sector teams from Baltimore, Denver, Fort Worth, Grand Rapids, Jacksonville, Louisville, Nashville, Philadelphia, and Saint Paul are negotiating agreements to share information between providers and schools, ratcheting up program quality standards, and turning an eye toward the sustainability of their efforts beyond the current three-year grant-cycle.
“This is really the laboratory for the future successes we expect to see in the field,” said Ellen Gannett, executive director of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time, one of the half-dozen field experts on hand to assist the teams with their work.
The nine cities are at the leading edge of a growing trend in which cities are playing a more active role to support and improve afterschool programming. Over the last two years, NLC released two groundbreaking reports on what has been learned from more than a decade of concerted city efforts to expand access to high-quality afterschool. Municipal Leadership for Afterschool: Citywide Approaches Spreading Across the Country profiled 27 local system-building efforts, illustrating how mayors and other municipal leaders have made a fundamental shift in their approach to afterschool opportunities, in recognition of the link between these programs and key local priorities such as public safety and academic achievement. More recently, NLC published a toolkit on how to build management information systems to improve and measure the impact of citywide afterschool systems.
“These cities are exploring new ground in terms of getting actionable information to a broad array of community stakeholders in out-of-school time programs, and linking quality improvement processes to the kinds of results – academic and workforce preparedness – that city leaders want to achieve,” said Audrey M. Hutchinson, program director for education and afterschool initiatives at the YEF Institute. “In a couple of years, I’d like to see 500 people gather again at a conference like this to see what we’ve learned from the nine communities that are participating in the Next Generation Afterschool System Building initiative.”
Details: City officials interested in learning more about strategies to build and expand afterschool citywide systems can contact Bela Shah Spooner at (202) 626-3057 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Kim Eisenreich at (202) 626-3035 or email@example.com. For additional resources on afterschool system building, visit the Wallace Foundation's Resource Page on Afterschool.