What first steps do I need to take to establish a good afterschool program?
Set goals that reflect the needs of the children and families in your community.
The first step in planning a new afterschool program, or for enhancing an existing one, is to look closely at the needs of the families in your community, and then establish goals for your program based on those
needs. Every group of young people, and every neighborhood of parents, will have a unique set of desires and challenges. Because a good program should foster a sense of identity in children, it must respond to the specific cultural, socio-economic, and educational needs of the community it serves. Attending to these needs in your planning process is one way to ensure a successful program. Always bear in mind that every afterschool program should seek to nurture the whole child; academic, social, emotional, and physical development must all be addressed.
Begin by conducting a little research; assess the needs and existing assets in your community before you design the program. Find out what the strengths of the afterschool teachers are - what do they want to teach? Formally or informally, you'll also need to ask people directly what they're looking for in an afterschool program. You can send out surveys to find out what kinds of activity parents and children would like, for example, homework support, sports, service-learning
1, or hands-on arts projects. Be sure the surveys are short and to the point so that people will be more inclined to complete and return them.
You can also set up meetings to discuss the framework for a new program. Be sure to include all of the stakeholders: parents, children, school officials, community leaders. Before the meeting, set an agenda with the specific questions you want to address. Also, find out what programs already exist, and determine what needs have been left unmet in your community. Once you've surveyed and discussed, look at the information you've collected, and decide on the priorities for your community. Think about your program and determine what needs you can realistically and effectively address. By collaborating with all involved, your program's goals should better reflect the flavor of the community.
For more details about setting goals for your program, refer to the online manual "Making An Impact on Out-of-School Time" on the National Institute for Out-of-School Time (NIOST) Web site. NIOST has worked for the past twenty years to bring national attention to the importance of children's out-of-school time through research, education and training, consultation, and program development.
Also, check out The Afterschool Alliance, an organization committed to increasing resources for afterschool programs. Coordinated by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Alliance grew out of a partnership between the Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education, and is made up of a number of public, private, and non-profit groups. The Afterschool Alliance offers an Afterschool Action Kit to help individuals and communities look for or design quality afterschool programs. The kit includes a chart that describes the goals for afterschool programs, broken down according to age group. Another helpful resource is the "Beyond the Bell" toolkit. This toolkit is designed to help afterschool staff plan and make good decisions in six critical areas: management, collaboration, programming, integration with traditional school day, evaluation, and communication.
Establish strong leadership and a clear organizational structure.
Along with clear goals, afterschool programs must have a solid organizational structure that allows for effective communication between all parties, for flexibility, and for accountability. As goals vary from program to program, so will the administrative structure and systems, depending on whether the program is school-based, community-run, or operated as a partnership between different organizations. The organization and management structure you put into place must establish responsibilities clearly, and must include well-designed methods for measuring progress.
Strong leadership is essential to a good program, but this does not mean that one person should be making all decisions and running the entire show. Your program should strive to incorporate principles of site-based management
2 and continuous improvement
3. A good leader will establish a system wherein staff members feel ownership of the program, and feel comfortable exchanging ideas, offering suggestions, discussing problems, and sharing success stories. Staff and volunteers must feel supported by the director, and must be able to turn to him or her with problems, concerns, and needs. Effective directors have systems in place to ensure that responsibilities are clear from the outset. This can also leave the director somewhat freer to explore new options and opportunities for her program. For more information, see the Department of Education's Continuous Improvement Management Guide.
The Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management offers additional information about effective leadership for non-profit organizations.
Develop a budget and financial plan that provides for long-term sustainability.
Every afterschool program needs to establish an annual operating budget, accurate bookkeeping systems, and affordable fee structures. Depending on your community, fees from participating families will provide some or all of your available funds. One of the big challenges for any afterschool program is securing funding that will keep the program viable for the long term. This is especially important so that programs can hire and keep good staff, and so that materials, facilities, and activities can be of the highest quality.
There are many resources for funding, but keep in mind these considerations. First, be creative and flexible as you think about funding, by looking both at traditional sources, (for example, federal and state programs, and community agencies) and at new sources (such as community foundations, employers, local education funds). Second, it's a good idea to establish several funding sources, so that if one source is discontinued, you'll have other resources in place. The Child Care and Development Block Grant Program provides vouchers and subsidies for low-income families. For a guide to sustainable funding, look at The Finance Project brief. The Children's Defense Fund provides additional information.
Here are some tips from NIOST's on-line manual "Making an Impact on Out of School Time."
Adriana de Kanter La Perla comments on the importance of finding multiple funding sources when thinking about sustainabiltiy.|
- If your program is based in a public school, or partnered with one, find out about Title I funds and other funds available directly through public schools, like the 21st Century Community Learning Centers funding from the U.S. Department of Education.
- Find out how much parents in your community are able and willing to pay for their children's involvement in the program.
- Look at the government's Web site on out-of-school time program resources and funding to find out about federal funds and grants.
- Talk to local businesses about supporting specific aspects of your program.
- Research national, community, and family foundations that offer grants.
- Develop presentation and printed materials explaining your program and its needs that can be used with potential funders.
As a partner in the Department of Education's 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative (21st CCLC), the Mott Foundation now provides funding to organizations that offer workshops for bidders
4 seeking federal grant money for afterschool programs. The workshops are designed to attract applicants who might not otherwise have applied for these funds. In these workshops, participants receive information on:
- profiles of successful past awards
- typical errors in previous applications
- changes in the current competition
- activities mandated by statute
- absolute and competitive priorities
- selection criteria
- insight into how applications were selected for funding.
By providing technical assistance to new and experienced grant writers alike, the workshops help to level the playing field for programs seeking 21st CCLC funds. For more information about these workshops, visit the Department of Education's Web site or the Mott Foundation.
In addition to these sources, community-based organizations, such as the YMCA or Boys and Girls Clubs, are a good place to turn for information and assistance in obtaining funding from a variety of funding streams. They can also help build strong community support for your program. For a list of organizations offering advice on funding or funding itself, go to the Resources section of this workshop.
|Adriana de Kanter La Perla offers suggestions on where to look for funding.|
|21st Century Technical Assistance Workshops
To ensure that all school districts can prepare high-quality applications,
the U.S. Department of Education has worked for the past three years with
the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the National Center for Community
Education, the National Community Education Association, the National
Association for Bilingual Education and other regional and local
organizations to provide numerous technical assistance opportunities for
communities interested in applying for grants. Workshop attendance over the past two
years has been remarkable. Some 13,000 representatives from families,
schools, community and civic organizations, local governments, foundations,
faith-based organizations, and businesses came together to learn about quality, extended learning, strategies for collaboration, and models of best practice. For this year's competition, at least one workshop was
provided in every state.
The investment in assisting local communities to plan afterschool and
community education programs seems to be working. Because of the extensive
training provided to potential applicants, the quality of 21st Century
Community Learning Centers applications has significantly improved over the
past three years. The average standardized score has gone from 72 (in 1998)
to 75 (in 1999) to almost 80 (in 2000). This year, over 1,300 applications
(of the 2,253 received) earned an average rating of 75 or above.
[information from Adriana de Kanter La Perla]
Understand the legal requirements and liability issues for your afterschool programs, and be sure your plan addresses them.
Legal requirements for afterschool programs vary from state to state, and also depend on the age group your program serves. If you run a program exclusively for older children, or if your program is church-run or school-run, you may be exempt from specific licensing requirements. Otherwise, your afterschool program will be required to demonstrate compliance with a set of state requirements. For school-age programs, these will include issues such as food-handling, child sign-in and sign-out procedures, building cleanliness, child-to-staff ratios, space requirements, and requirements about the types of activities offered. Check with your state's Department of Health and Human Services, the Office for Children, or the Education Department and ask about licensing requirements for afterschool programs.
All successful programs must put in place procedures and policies that protect children and staff, first by meeting licensing requirements, and then by addressing liability issues. Because you will be legally accountable for the safety and welfare of the children in your program, it's advisable to carry liability insurance in case a child is injured while in your care, or in case of lawsuits against your organization. Some states require background checks for all workers. Liability issues are complex, and so we do not attempt to address them completely here. Please see the Resources section for more information.
Of course, it is essential to set up systems to maintain adequate records and regularly review health and safety procedures. These are additional ways to protect your organization and to keep track of your progress and overall success. Also, you'll want to make sure that your program complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Inclusion of children with disabilities should be considered a part of any good afterschool program.
Address the safety, health, and nutritional issues that face the children in your program.
Basic safety and health issues must be addressed in the planning stages and monitored continuously. For example, when you're starting up your program, you'll need to consider how to get children to your site safely if it's not on their school grounds. This is especially important for young children; you'll need to think about staff escorts and crossing guards, or provide for vans or buses to transport children.
No matter what age group you serve, the facility in which you house your program must be clean and have adequate space indoors and outdoors. Indoor areas must have adequate heat and light, room for storing belongings, and be equipped with interesting materials to enhance learning opportunities. Recreational equipment should be plentiful and safe.
Keep in mind that after school, kids need to eat, relax, and run around to let off steam. Without addressing these physical needs, you won't be able to keep kids focused on other activities, academic or otherwise. If outdoor space for your program is limited, try to think creatively about how to address the problem. Games can be organized and set up indoors, if necessary. Be sure to take cues from the children themselves; some of them will need to run around, and others will need to sit quietly and rest. Your program will need to be flexible to accommodate these different physical needs.
If children are hungry, they won't be able to concentrate, so a schedule that makes children wait and offers snacks as a reward for completing homework will end up being counter-productive. Snack or meal times, as appropriate, can themselves be entry points for all kinds of learning; children can help in the preparation of foods (a service-learning activity), and can be introduced to ideas about health and nutrition at the same time. Recipes are perfect for math lessons. Some recipes make great chemistry experiments! The bottom line is that for some children, healthy snacks in afterschool programs provide nutrition they would otherwise be missing. The Department of Agriculture can help pay for snacks; for more information, see the Department of Agriculture's Web site.
Carefully consider staffing needs.
Hiring and retaining skilled, qualified, caring staff people
Increasingly, research shows that no matter what type of program children attend, they need to be around caring adults who can address their social and emotional needs. In fact, a positive relationship with adults is one of the most important variables affecting how much children learn. Quality afterschool programs must start with a consistent, stable, core staff - the same people on site everyday, taking care of children in predictable, thoughtful, and professional ways.
Each community must look for the combination of volunteers, paraprofessionals, and professionals who will best serve their needs, but all staff members should be experienced, trained and qualified to work with school-age children and youth. For school-age programs, licensing requirements must be met.
Maintaining a low turnover rate among the staff is critical to a quality program. This is especially important for children who may not have such stability, support, and guidance at home. To keep good teachers and staff, programs must be willing and able to provide attractive compensation and benefits packages. This is a significant funding issue, and reason enough for program administrators to seek multiple funding sources.
Ellen Gannett explains the importance of the role of the staff, the interpersonal relationships between the staff, and the need for communication between the administration and the staff in a quality afterschool program.
Providing for professional development
To ensure a quality program, staff must be well-trained from the start, and professional development should be ongoing. Staff and volunteers new to a program should be given adequate orientation and training, including very concrete information, like particular job responsibilities, program policies, curriculum planning guidance, and even CPR and First Aid instruction. Staff must also be trained in appropriate ways of working with children, for example, negotiation strategies, behavior guidance, or training in working with different age groups, races, cultures, or with children with disabilities.
Program content is an important topic for initial and ongoing training. Staff must be given the opportunity to continue to learn and share their ideas. Weekly, biweekly, or monthly meetings can provide a forum for an exchange of ideas about enrichment and hands-on activities. They can be used as a place for staff to gain more expertise in academic subject areas, or as a place to discuss strategies for improving the different components of the program. Trainers may be brought in from outside organizations to discuss particular topics such as tutoring strategies, detecting child abuse, special needs, or behavior guidance. You can also look for training and courses at nearby community colleges or resource and referral agencies.
Without the opportunity for professional development or for conversation with their peers, staffers may feel undervalued or frustrated, and may be less likely to stay with a program. Conversely, a program where staff consider themselves to be part of a community of learners, where it's clear to students that their teachers are engaged in learning, will prove to be dynamic and exciting for everyone involved.
Ensuring low adult/child ratios and small group sizes
Research in all areas of education has shown that low staff to child ratios are critical for learning to take place. For children age six and older, the ratio usually falls between 1:10 and 1:15. When the ratio is higher (above 1:13), researchers report that children spend more time waiting in line, and that staff exhibit poorer behavior management skills. When ratios are low, the best interests of both the staff and the children are obviously served. One-on-one time is critical whenever possible. Especially if your program focuses on tutoring and mentoring, it's important for children to feel that they have access to a particular adult, that their individual needs are being attended to, and that they are not simply one of many children being "babysat."
Here again, program directors must seek out funding to ensure that they can maintain low ratios. Directors can also enlist the support of volunteers, including parents and other family members, senior citizens, or national service personnel. Volunteers, like other staff members, should have experience working with children and youth, and should be trained before they begin. These volunteers should have meaningful experiences and skills to share, thereby helping to build a community of learners.
Enlisting school day teachers as afterschool staff
For reasons mentioned above, it is desirable to have highly trained staff, like classroom teachers, participating in afterschool programs. For example, if a needs study for your community shows that tutoring is a priority, having a teacher who can work one-on-one with students is essential. Also, hiring classroom teachers is a good way to link afterschool and school day programs, and to give the program some additional publicity.
But classroom teachers need to be accommodated, and compensated for the additional time. Some school districts have taken a new look at the school day, and have restructured their schedules so that teachers and students have increased opportunities for learning beyond the traditional 9:00 to 3:00 school day. In some cases, this means that teachers might be offered different teaching shifts, where some teachers start their day at 11:00 so that they can stay through the end of the afterschool program. Not all communities want or need afterschool programs with this scope, but given the realities of working parents, some communities are beginning to look at such options. Again, flexible thinking is the key to programs that truly respond to community needs.