Coordinating Afterschool Programming
Historically, the afterschool field has often worked in siloes. Cities did not know how many afterschool programs they had, where they were located, who they served or what activities they provided. Likewise, school officials did not necessarily know what kinds of activities their students were engaged in once the final school bell rang.
In recent years, a significant number of cities have made a fundamental shift in their approach to afterschool. A new vision has taken shape, one where an entire city creates a system aimed at ensuring equitable access to and participation in high-quality programs. Although citywide coordination was first seen as a “big city” approach, more small cities are starting to take strides toward a systems approach.
As in big cities, small communities understand the critical importance of effectively using resources, leveraging partnerships and ensuring access to high-quality learning opportunities. Yet, how this work is accomplished and what it looks like can vary greatly between large and small cities.
Regardless of city size, mayors and city councilmembers have the power to use their leadership roles and bully pulpit to convene stakeholders around a common vision for children and youth. For example, in Hammond, La. , a town of 20,000, Councilman Lemar Marshall used his political position to convene a number of key stakeholders representing the local school districts (public and private), nonprofits, parents and other community leaders to start a conversation around better serving young people in the afterschool and summer hours. As a result of this effort, the Hammond Youth Education Alliance was formed in 2013 to ensure all young people in the city have access to high-quality afterschool and summer learning opportunities.
Afterschool Coordination in Small Communities
In large cities, coordination often results in the establishment of an entity whose responsibility it is to oversee the afterschool system. While this formalized entity may not be necessary or practical in every small community, especially those communities that only have one afterschool program that serves the entire student population, it can be an effective approach in some small cities.
In 2009, the city of Northfield, Minn., established the PRIMEtime collaborative, which is a network of afterschool programs that provide a continuum of free, year-round afterschool and summer learning opportunities. The PRIMEtime collaborative is housed in the Northfield Healthy Community Initiative (HCI); through the HCI they are able to provide professional development, fundraising and assistance in the collection, analysis and use of data.
According to Zach Pruitt, executive director of HCI, the PRIMEtime Collaborative has been “essential to the success and sustainability of afterschool and summer learning opportunities for the most at-risk youth in Northfield.” He also added that a key to the collaborative’s success has been the fact they do not run programs, which allows them to be a “neutral third party.”
Building an afterschool system can also be an effective approach for working across cities. Two small, first-tier suburbs in Minnesota, Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park, have been collaborating for years. In 2008, they made this collaboration official and created the Brooklyn Bridge Alliance for Youth.
The Alliance was formed through a joint powers agreement between the two cities, four school districts, one county and two higher education institutions that serve as a Joint Powers Board. The shared vision of both cities helped shape the mission of the Alliance: “to cooperatively support positive youth development in afterschool opportunities for all youth in Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park assuring success of all youth by challenging the conditions that diminish their hope by connecting them to trusted adults who are vested in their healthy development and mastery of essential skills.” Between 2008 and 2012, Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park have seen a 62 percent increase in afterschool participation , and a 39 percent decrease in juvenile crime.