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After-School Programs: Cities and School Districts Work Together to Serve Children

Connie Busse is executive director of the Cities Counties Schools (CCS) Partnership, a 10-year collaborative effort of the League, California State Association of Counties and California School Boards Association; she can be reached at cbusse@counties.org. Francesca Wright is a program consultant for the CCS Partnership and can be reached at francesca.wright@gmail.com. For more information about the CCS Partnership, visit www.ccspartnership.org .

The positive effects of quality after-school programs include academic success and fewer truancy problems.

When the school day ends, Marcus takes his backpack and heads for the multipurpose room. He flashes his student ID by the automatic card reader and high-fives Mr. Addy, who teaches West African drumming. Marcus grabs a bowl of sliced apples and cheese cubes that he brings to a table of laughing boys. Before enrolling in the after-school program, he used to walk home to an empty apartment. Today, he’ll finish his homework, shoot some hoops and work on his drumming technique before his big sister comes to pick him up.

Cities throughout California have been working with local school districts to ensure that children have a safe place to be before and after school. For decades, city parks and recreation departments have championed this movement to provide activities for children outside the school day. In 2000, the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers bolstered grants for after-school programs and the state’s After-School Education and Safety (ASES) program. But in California, available spaces nearly tripled after a ballot initiative, Proposition 49, took effect in fall 2006 and infused $550 million a year into after-school programs.

Riskiest Time for Kids

Several studies have shown that the hours from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. are prime time for violent juvenile crime; it is also when kids are most likely to be victims of violent crime. Because of the absence of adult supervision, these are also the peak hours for drug use, smoking, teen sex and car crashes involving teens. Constructive after-school activities can transform these hours of trouble and risk into a time of opportunity and promise.

Research shows that the positive effects of quality after-school programs include reduced crime and violence, an increase in academic success and fewer disciplinary and truancy problems.

Additionally, a national study, America After 3PM , reports that:

  • Ninety-four percent of California parents are extremely or somewhat satisfied with the after-school program their child attends;
  • In California, the top three reasons cited for selecting an after-school program are convenient location, child enjoyment and affordability; and
  • Parents of non-participants believe that their children would benefit most from after-school programs by having fun, staying safe and out of trouble, enriching their academic achievements and increasing their physical activity.

The Role of Cities

The cities with the largest after-school programs began their initiatives before the campaign for state-funded programs was initiated. Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego, Anaheim and other cities had leaders with vision who rallied city council and community commitments to invest in after-school care. Sacramento’s Students Today Achieving Results for Tomorrow (START) and L.A.’s Better Educated Students for Tomorrow (BEST) programs gathered evidence that quality after-school programs help students do better in school, improve attendance, reduce the need for disciplinary interventions and provide a safe haven for children. Their public-private model, linked to academic achievement, became the prototype for the state’s ASES grants, which require local matching funds.

L.A. ’s BEST After-School Enrichment Program provides a safe haven for children ages 5 to 12 at 180 elementary school sites each day during the critical hours after school - at no cost to parents. Supported by three mayoral administrations and five school district superintendents, the program’s administration is housed in the mayor’s office and works closely with an assistant superintendent devoted exclusively to after-school programming. L.A.’s BEST staff provides appropriate academic support and creates a program that is an integral yet separate enhancement to the school curriculum.

Most of the ASES grants have been made directly to school districts. In many cases, the districts contract with the local Parks and Recreation Department to provide the recreation component. The state Department of Education has made 18 grants directly to cities.

One example is the City of Paramount in southern Los Angeles County. Paramount is a small, densely populated, largely Latino city with children residing in more than half of its households. The median household income is less than $37,000. This built-out city does not have many parks, but it has a strong Parks and Recreation Department whose director, Vince Torres, worked out an arrangement with School Superintendent David Verdugo to allow the city access to school fields for summer recreation and after-school programs.

The Paramount City Council had made after-school programs a priority, so Torres embraced the challenge. When the state ASES funds became available, Torres approached Verdugo to explore how the city could help the school district reach the goal of after-school programs for 100 children in each of its 16 elementary schools. The community had just passed a $100 million school improvement bond, and the district staff didn’t have the capacity to take on another large initiative.

Finding Ways to Work Together

Torres sought the advice of after-school experts at the California Department of Education (CDE), which has consultants and regional technical assistance centers. Torres invited his regional leader to coach the city on the process. One key piece of advice was to keep in mind "You’ll always be guests in the district’s house." Torres asked Verdugo what it would take for the after-school program to be a good guest in each of the 16 elementary schools and was told, "You have to sell the idea to every principal, vice principal and the teachers." So Torres recruited a retired principal to run the program and a teacher at each school to coordinate the academic component of the program. Key to their qualifications, each coordinator had excellent relations with principals and other staff.

With established liaisons within each school, Torres filled in his work force using a proven recreation department recruitment strategy. He recruited third-year education students from nearby colleges. All program staff were trained in curriculum-based academic support, enrichment and recreation. The daily programs include physical education and healthy snacks. The program staff arrives early and communicates daily with the student’s teachers and parents. This includes using voice mail and e-mail to address homework updates and other concerns.

The city supplements the CDE grants from Paramount’s General Fund to cover the cost of the full-time after-school supervisor. The city council was willing to provide this support because the after-school program is curriculum based. Paramount is now working on plans to expand the after-school program into all its middle schools.

The City of Sacramento’s program, Sacramento START, spans six school districts (Del Paso Heights, Elk Grove Unified, Natomas Unified, North Sacramento, Rio Linda Union and Sacramento City). Its 350 employees bring daily programs to 6,000 children at 43 school sites. The program is supported through ASES and federal 21st Century grants, city and county funding, school district matching funds, corporate and private donations, AmeriCorps and community volunteers.

The City of Fresno Parks and Recreation Department’s After-School Division had the advantage of a 40-year history of drop-in programs on school campuses, and its program has waiting lists. Fresno After-School Manager Kyle Jeffcoach oversees the enrichment and activity component of after-school programs at 27 elementary schools. Each site has a coordinator, hired by the Fresno Unified School District, who coordinates the academic component, academic tutors hired by the district, and Parks and Recreation Department enrichment staff. The district staff tutors math and English, and city staff provides the same fitness, nutrition, character development, art and sports programs at all campuses. All staff participate in a 40-hour orientation and four to eight hours of monthly coaching. In a district with high student mobility, students may frequently change schools, but they keep coming to the after-school programs.

While large urban programs are thriving, smaller communities face challenges. Small start-up programs have to go through many of the same planning, negotiating and design steps as large programs, but with fewer resources and less cumulative experience. Frequently the result is a program with too few students enrolled.

"There are multiple reasons why programs are under-enrolled," reports Lindsay Callahan, director of the Central Valley Afterschool Foundation. "Not all communities are prepared to recruit the staff and students for after-school programs. Some schools try to manage the program on their own, but most soon seek partners with cities and service providers." Callahan notes that cities and nonprofits have greater flexibility than school districts in hiring part-time program staff, because they don’t have to meet the same No Child Left Behind standards for "highly qualified instructors."

Thanks to Prop. 49 and federal 21st Century grants, resources will remain available for cities to provide after-school programs. As each funding cohort completes its five-year grant, more requests for applications will be released. Communities that were unable to fill all of the available spaces will receive smaller grants, thereby releasing funds for other communities.

For More Information

Many resources offer help for after-school programs. Information is available online from these organizations:

California School Age Consortium at www.calsac.org; After School Alliance at www.afterschoolalliance.org; and California Department of Education at www.cde.ca.gov .

Tips for Working With Schools

  • Be flexible.
  • Stay positive.
  • Remember your customers are the children.
  • Promote partnership with the schools, the community and businesses.
  • Share credit.
  • Build on your strengths: part-time hires, training staff, outreach, participant recruitment and recreation.
  • Create explicit roles and responsibilities for school and
    city staff.
  • Co-train with school staff to build one program and shared ownership.
  • Know you’re a guest in the teachers’ classrooms and the principals’ schools.
  • Make sure you have some staff with solid knowledge of how schools and the district are run.
  • Keep academic achievement a stated goal.
  • Plan for student recruitment
    and retention.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate!