Municipal and School Leaders as Key Champions

textLeadership from community champions is a critical component in building and sustaining afterschool programs in local communities. Though vocal afterschool supporters can come from a variety of sectors, municipal and school leaders often prove to be of particular importance in small and rural communities.

 

Municipal leaders frequently invest in afterschool initiatives because they offer a safe haven for students during the non-school hours. Forward-thinking educators and municipal officials also recognize the importance of providing students with opportunities to develop skills that will prepare them to be successful in college and the workplace.

Municipal Investment

Municipal investment in afterschool programming can take a variety of forms. In some communities, city leaders champion afterschool by providing financial support, drawing upon the proceeds of a city tax, other general fund dollars or in-kind donations such as use of city buildings and administrative support. In other communities, municipal officials have single-handedly spearheaded movements to support young people more effectively through increased access to high-quality afterschool and summer learning opportunities.

In Hammond, La., Councilman Lemar Marshall realized that the community was not adequately supporting young people outside of school, and this lack of support was undermining the quality of life in many of the city’s neighborhoods. By leveraging his bully pulpit, Councilman Marshall organized a wide range of community stakeholders around a common agenda: improving afterschool and summer opportunities for Hammond’s youth. Collectively, they created the Hammond Youth Education Alliance, which is currently working to finalize its strategic plan and gathering financial support from the city, local nonprofits and businesses to sustain their efforts.

In Falls City, Ore., Mayor Amy Houghtaling understands the importance of collaboration between the city and school district in sustaining afterschool programs. Like most small town mayors, Mayor Houghtaling holds a full-time job outside of her elected role; she is an employee of the school district. Given her multiple roles, Mayor Houghtaling is uniquely attuned to the needs of different municipal entities, and is well-positioned to facilitate collaboration between them in support of Falls City’s F.A.C.E.S. (Family Academic Clubs and Enrichment for Success) afterschool program. She has helped secure facility space by encouraging the city to provide access to municipal buildings at no charge. In return, programming professionals have made giving back to the local community a fixture of the afterschool curriculum. For example, the city engaged the afterschool welding class to help repair a local bridge and to create a sign welcoming people to the city.

The Falls City school district offers assistance by providing administrative support for the F.A.C.E.S. program. With support from both the city and the school district, Falls City’s afterschool program is able to offer high-quality afterschool programming to all K-12 students.

Formal Collaboration

Two strong leaders anchor the push for expanded afterschool programming in Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park, Minn. The adjacent communities share several school districts and face the same youth-related challenges. Brooklyn Park Mayor Jeff Lunde and Brooklyn Center Mayor Tim Willson understand that local government collaboration in support of afterschool opportunities must transcend city boundaries. To foster widespread support for expanded afterschool programming in the two communities, Mayors Lunde and Willson are using their positions to advocate for community-wide partnerships and increased investment in the Brooklyn Bridge Alliance for Youth. Stakeholder buy-in at the highest levels in Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center has paved the way for afterschool program expansion in the cities, and made it easier to attract additional local stakeholders.

City and School Partnerships

In Mapleton, Ore., the afterschool program director works with teachers to support individual students. For example, teachers relay the homework assignments of each afterschool participant and their overall progress in school to the afterschool program director. This strong relationship has streamlined their ability to share student data, allowing both parties to better track the long-term impact on how afterschool programming supports academic achievement.

Similarly, in Northfield, Minn., the PrimeTime afterschool network partners with the school district to conduct an annual evaluation of the academic measures of the afterschool participants in the PrimeTime network. The school district also invites the afterschool youth workers to participate in district professional development, which helps to drive program improvement. PrimeTime Director Zach Pruitt is enthusiastic about the network’s relationship with the school district, saying that Northfield’s network would not have had as much success as they have if not for their collaboration.

The Umatilla School District in Umatilla, Ore., plays a critical role in the sustainability of their afterschool program, which serves their entire K-12 population. This program is also the largest single program in Oregon.

Umatilla School District Superintendent Heidi Sipe is acutely aware of the challenges families in Umatilla face. The community is highly mobile and is a majority- minority community; 62 percent of their population is of Hispanic descent. Umatilla also faces the highest rate of poverty among children in the state, with 84 percent of their student population qualifying for free and reduced lunch.

Superintendent Sipe recognizes how important afterschool is to the community, and strongly supports the program through the school district’s general funds. The school district also provides transportation, use of their facilities and support to the program director to incorporate job training, literacy and GED classes into afterschool programming to help improve the educational and economic stability of young people and their families.

It is clear that afterschool programs, especially in small and rural communities, cannot sustain themselves if the city and the school district operate in isolation. Having both city and school leaders as champions of this work is critical not only to the sustainability of programs, but necessary to meet the needs of children and families.