Grand Rapids: Using Data to Improve Afterschool Programs

A growing number of cities understand the value that afterschool programs bring to children, youth, and their families, and in turn to the city. Many cities have built coordinated citywide afterschool systems to increase access and participation of target populations and to set a standard of quality for all programs.  A city or network of programs can’t make significant change, however, without data.

A new report from The Wallace Foundation examines six cities that established a management information system (MIS) to support the use of data in afterschool programs to measure impact.

The National League of Cities spoke with Lynn Heemstra, executive director of Our Community’s Children, a partnership between the City of Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Public Schools, to discuss how the Expanded Learning Opportunity (ELO) Network is using data to improve the delivery of afterschool programs citywide.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

NLC: Why was it important for Grand Rapids, Michigan to develop an afterschool data system?

Heemstra: The ELO Network of afterschool providers knew it had to have data on its youth outcomes in order to garner community-wide support for afterschool programs.  Many people don’t understand the benefits that afterschool programs offer, so having data to prove that they make a difference was imperative.

NLC: Which stakeholders did you engage to develop your afterschool data system?

Heemstra: The ELO Network had input from its members representing afterschool providers, the school district, higher education, the police department, business, and city departments. The ELO Network has an evaluation team with evaluation expertise and had the resources of the Community Research Institute at Grand Valley State University. We also had funders and their resources at the table including The Wallace Foundation, the DeVos Foundation, Harvard Family Research Project, John W. Gardner Center for Youth & Their Communities at Stanford University, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, and Data Initiatives, and the NLC to guide us.

NLC: How did you obtain buy-in from the stakeholders – especially providers?

Heemstra: We knew that creating the database would give providers – many of whom do not have the resources to establish their own – the means to have outcomes they can report to their boards and the community. The ELO Network held quarterly focus groups with key stakeholders to develop shared outcomes that most accurately reflected our collective work as a network. It was important for us to invite everyone we could to the table, especially because we needed data from both the school district and the Grand Rapids Police Department.

NLC: What has your data system told you about your afterschool system that you didn’t know before?  

Heemstra: We know how many students we serve, how many organizations upload their data, what impact programs have on program attendance, school attendance, academic performance, police reports, and social-emotional learning styles. The ELO Network has seen significant outcomes in school attendance. 99% of ELO youth participants do not show up in police reports and our African American male participants do better in math.

NLC: Since creating the MIS, what have you done with the data? Have you made any changes to your afterschool system (site location, investment, etc) as a result of the data you now have?

Heemstra: We post the data on our dashboard and we have presented it to the entire Network and at legislative breakfasts in an effort to increase funding for afterschool programs. It is a value-added benefit of belonging to the ELO Network. Our original data management system allowed data outcomes at both the agency and network levels. Currently, we are shifting to another data platform through Salesforce that will be able to offer real time data once data is uploaded.

NLC: Can you share 3 tips for city leaders who are thinking of building an afterschool data system?

  1. Do your research and evaluate short- and long-term costs; Think about sustainability up front.
  2. Ensure you have the buy-in of all stakeholders who will be using the data platform;
  3. Evaluate how well you are doing by using “Aspects of a Data System: People, Technology; and Processes” by Chapin Hall. This template helps you think through all aspects of developing a data system.

Gislene Tasayco AuthorAbout the Author: Gislene Tasayco is the senior associate for NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families Education and Expanded Learning team.