21st Century Potential

Joyce Dryfoos
October 1, 1999

All over the country the school house doors are opening up for extended hours. Youth workers should be taking advantage of new opportunities to help children find enriching activities after school.

Although appropriations are still up in the air, the FY 2000 Department of Education (DoE) budget calls for $600 million for 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC), a hefty increase from $40 million in 1998 and $200 million in 1999. The impetus for this expansion is widespread support from parents, schools and community leaders.

While the initial funds went directly to 1,600 schools, the proposed budget holds potential for up to 5,000 sites. In response to pressure from the youth development field, the statute will allow up to 10 percent of the grants to be awarded to community-based organizations (CBOs) with concurrence from their school districts. That’s 60 million new dollars specifically for youth-serving agencies. In addition, all school grantees must cooperate with community agencies, and subcontracts are permitted. Grants will extend over five years and must have a local match.

Youth advocates (including Youth Today) have viewed this new program with some ambivalence. Almost everyone agrees that it is a good idea to open the school house doors for extended hours. Consensus is missing about what should go on during that time, who should be in charge, and how after-school activities should relate to in-school work. Youth development agencies have expressed concern that schools will rely on their teachers to work after school, continuing their classroom routines. Unless these are very special teachers with a lot of energy, talent and training, they could fail to enrich the children and have little impact on learning or anything else. Youth development agencies think they can bring fresher, more appropriate approaches to learning, recreation and cultural awareness. At least they can offer staff who are not already burned-out from a long day in the classroom.

Adriana de Kanter, advisor on after-school issues at the Education Department, acknowledges that the community learning centers “are not doing their jobs if they are not including the voices of the community in the planning and implementation of a project. ... While it is a new role for CBOs to be involved in [Education Department] programs, it is a role that this administration actively encourages.”

Gordon Raley, president of the National Collaboration for Youth, agrees that the CCLC initiatives offer “a historic opportunity to forge new partnerships between school and communities and the institutions of education and youth development. However, the National Collaboration believes that at least 20 percent of appropriations should be set aside for CBOs to assure that youth development workers have a constant place at the table and are not relegated to a once-a-year advisory role.”

The C.S. Mott Foundation, a significant player in this emerging after-school program scene, has committed $80 million to a partnership with the Department of Education for training, technical assistance, national polling and development of evaluation. Reader’s Digest, Soros Open Society Institute and many other foundations are investing heavily in after-school efforts, as are numerous cities and states. After-school has become a big business. Everyone wants a piece of the action.

What should youth advocates do? They should eagerly support the 21st Century CLC program because, if nothing else, it establishes the principle that the school house doors must be open longer hours. At best, school systems will collaborate with youth development agencies and offer an array of programs that will help kids. The menu is extensive. You can do anything in a school building that you can do anywhere else. The children are already there. The investment in after-school programming is a positive force for gaining entry into the school building. Once there, CBOs can become a potent force in the movement to create full service community schools that are responsive to the children, their families and their neighborhoods.

Joy Dryfoos is an independent writer and researcher in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.

Dryfoos, Joy. "21st Century Potential." Youth Today, October 1999, p. 54.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.