Providing Professional Development and Quality Resource
There is general agreement that afterschool programs positively impact the growth and development of young people. However, it is also understood that programs must be high-quality to achieve this positive impact. High-quality afterschool programs have been shown to increase school attendance, raise graduation rates and reduce the likelihood that young people will smoke, drink, use drugs or become teen parents. These programs also help cities reduce juvenile crime, promote healthy lifestyles, address childhood obesity and build an educated and skilled workforce.
A Youth Development Approach
Quality afterschool programs incorporate a youth development approach in which programming is developmentally appropriate and meets participants’ needs as they grow and mature. The National Collaboration for Youth describes the youth development approach as one that “meets the challenges of adolescence and adulthood through a coordinated, progressive series of activities and experiences which help them to become socially, morally, emotionally, physically and cognitively competent.”
In addition, the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) defines the components of a high-quality program as one that has:
- Clear goals;
- Staff that are highly educated and well paid;
- Highly educated program directors;
- Low staff turnover;
- Small group sizes for activities and a low staff to student ratio;
- Good connections with schools, principals and teachers;
- Continuous program evaluation of progress and effectiveness; and
- Varied strategies that may include engaging activities, opportunities for cognitive growth and opportunities for participant autonomy.
Ensuring High-Quality Programming
Communities across the country are using a variety of quality resources and tools to ensure their afterschool programming is of high quality. However, some of those tools require a fair amount of financial and staff capacity.
Regardless of capacity, the majority of programs start with defining quality through the use of standards. Some communities, such as Denver and Baltimore, have opted to create their own quality standards, but many large and small communities leverage the work of the Statewide Afterschool Networks and the National Afterschool Association.
Forty-two Statewide Afterschool Networks offer support to providers through quality, access and advocacy. In the resources section, there are a number of different quality standard documents from the statewide afterschool networks, the National Afterschool Association and cities that have successfully adopted quality standards.
Beyond quality standards, some communities are also using a number of different youth and program assessment tools on a number of different indicators to further gauge the effectiveness of their programs. For more information about these tools, visit the resources section.
Professional Development in Afterschool
Another critical component to high-quality programming is the quality of the staff, from program directors to front-line staff who deliver the program content. Hiring, developing and retaining high-quality staff has been a struggle for the afterschool field, regardless of city size. Recent studies have estimated the staff turnover rate to be around 40 percent annually — a costly burden to programs because of the loss of human capital and the resulting disruption to established relationships.
These challenges are exacerbated in small and rural communities, where the workforce pool is small to begin with and geography can pose barriers to travel. Despite these challenges, small and rural communities are resourceful and have found ways to develop a small but healthy professional community. For example, communities such as Columbus, Neb., and Donaldsonville, La., use their 21st CCLC grant’s program quality indicators and annual professional development conferences to bolster their systems.
Mapleton and Falls City, Ore., rely on their statewide network, OregonASK, to provide professional development support. Mapleton has also used OregonASK’s connections to help recruit staff to their small community of less than 800 people. Falls City, Ore., partners with their local school district to offer additional professional development opportunities.
Umatilla and Mapleton, Ore., also take advantage of a variety of online professional development tools. Umatilla uses PD 360, which provides a substantial video library with numerous professional development topics. Mapleton implemented Playworks, a staff development tool with a focus on a physical education. The city uses the resource to train staff on how to write, play and communicate verbally with children.
Many small communities provide their own professional development trainings based on the specific needs of their staff. Northfield, Minn., and Donaldsonville, La., are two such examples. The PrimeTime Network in Northfield partners with the school district to open teacher professional development to all of the afterschool professionals within the network. In Donaldsonville, Bright Futures Community Learning Center works closely with their school district and classroom teachers to align the afterschool curriculum to the school curriculum. They also conduct weekly classroom observations and meet daily to discuss challenges the staff are facing. Their feedback and information is incorporated into professional development trainings that are offered periodically throughout the year.
Afterschool hours present a time when young people can be engaged in hands-on learning that supports their academic, social, emotional and physical development. In order to leverage this time effectively, programming must be of high quality. Cities of all sizes, from all geographic regions in the country recognize this and are finding creative and resourceful ways to ensure the afterschool programming they offer meets the needs of their young people.