Jan’s Corner: Afterschool Comes of Age

July 24, 2013

The afterschool field is coming of age, and that is a good thing.

Years ago, an afterschool program with games, crafts and a blacktop was enough to fill extended time needs.

But today, educators, community leaders and youth policy experts see afterschool as more than a few activities. Rather, afterschool is an essential link in a system of learning opportunities. Afterschool programs can link children and teens with community resources that offer real-world learning. They build on kids’ interests and help them gain skills and experiences that enrich their academic learning and expand upon more formal classroom learning.

But this means a bit of a culture change for the afterschool world.

As schools face more rigorous standards for measuring student gains and teacher performance, afterschool programs are also facing more pressure to go beyond providing a safe, fun place—and they need to prove that they are contributing to kids’ learning and development. If they want to be an integral part of the learning community, afterschool programs will need to collect data on attendance and outcomes and provide better staff training on youth and curriculum development.

At the same time, teachers and community leaders need to recognize the important contribution afterschool programs can offer: A place where students can enrich and reinforce what they’re learning in the classroom with hands-on learning, often in real-world settings.

The Wallace Foundation’s Better Together: Building Local Systems to Improve Afterschool, a report on its February 2013 conference, tells how afterschool programs are partnering with schools and policy leaders,, using ongoing program evaluations to improve their work, and helping to bolster student outcomes and keep students engaged who are at risk of dropping out.

In addition, the Wallace Foundation report identifies several challenges facing the afterschool field. One such challenge--attracting middle and high school students – has been admirably addressed by afterschool programs in Providence, Rhode Island, for example.

Spotlight: Expanded Learning in Providence, RI

The Wallace report gives a good overview, but it won’t tell you the story behind Providence’s success. For that, you’ll want to listen to a July 2013 American Youth Policy Forum webinar featuring with some of Providence’s expanded learning opportunity (ELO) leaders sharing the nuts and bolts of how they developed their afterschool system to provide extended learning opportunities that offer hands-on experiences and school credit.

Beginning with the commitment of their mayor to establishing a high-quality afterschool system, the Providence After School Alliance works as a coordinating intermediary, recruiting community businesses and nonprofits to help establish extended learning programs. They also work with teachers and school curriculum staff to ensure that the learning opportunities offered are aligned with common core and state academic standards, and with afterschool staff to ensure that the program bolsters targeted skills and core competencies.

There is a lot to learn from Providence’s collective impact approach to afterschool.

If you work with an afterschool program or in afterschool policy and practice, you are probably very busy. But I recommend you take a little time out to scan the Wallace Foundation report and listen to the AYPF webinar—you’ll find like-minded people struggling with challenges similar to your own. And you might also find some tips, approaches and resources that will help you surmount some of these challenges in your own work.

Watch the webinar in full:


More on ELO and the Common Core:

Jan Richter is a retired clinical social worker and child psychotherapist, and long-time children's advocate and writes the SparkAction Update. Read her bio here.


Janis Richter