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21st CCLC programs helping to reach communities most in need

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21st CCLC programs helping to reach communities most in need

This post is part of a series that will explore the supports and unique opportunities 21st CCLC programs provide for students.

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) initiative plays an important role in many communities throughout the country, especially those most in need. Children growing up in underserved communities are some of the most vulnerable and most in need of supports, as they are more likely to experience trauma, economic hardships, food insecurity, and other barriers to success. Since the beginning of the program, it has helped support these children and uplift underserved communities by providing necessary supports to those in need. This is especially true today more than ever. With many families facing economic hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in these underserved communities, 21st CCLC programs have been stepping in to provide meals, social and emotional supports, and other critical services needed.

Colcord Schools in Colcord, Oklahoma is an example of the important role 21st CCLC programs play in underserved communities, in particular, communities of concentrated poverty. Communities of concentrated poverty are areas in which a high percent, often 30 percent or more, of the population is living below the federal poverty line. Colcord is a small, rural town right in the heart of Cherokee Nation, with nearly 80% of the students in the program on free and reduced price lunch. If it were not for 21st CCLC funding, the community would be unable to sustain such a program due to its small tax base and absence of businesses in the area.

Through its programming, Colcord Schools aims to support students’ skill development and overall wellbeing to help them succeed after graduating from high school and into adulthood. The program focuses mainly on developing leadership skills and other necessary life skills, which they incorporate into their day–to-day activities. They support kids’ social and emotional development through positive adult mentorship, character education, and cultural programs, and offer additional supports such as health and wellness classes, substance abuse counseling, and other social services for students in the program. In addition, all kids receive a snack and a meal every day.

Raiders Ark in Arcadia, Wisconsin, faces a similar situation. Another small, rural town, Arcadia has limited resources available in the community; the nearest grocery store, YMCA, and other community resources are 45 minutes away. Not only does this program serve a community of concentrated poverty, 80% of students are English language learners (ELL) and 14% are students with disabilities and on an IEP.

The central component of Raiders ARK programming is creating a sense of belonging and fostering relationships among students, mentors, and staff. As many of the program’s students have experienced trauma, taking a social and emotional learning (SEL) approach is embedded within Raiders ARK’s design. From day one, every young person in the program is told that they are part of the Raiders ARK family; everyone is there to help support one another. Each table in the classroom is set up as a “family” unit with six to eight students in grades K-5, which helps create a safe space to foster this sense of belonging and collaboration among different grades. The program also starts and ends its day with student check-ins, so teachers can provide additional supports to those who might need it that day. This SEL focused approach allows ELL students to feel comfortable practicing their English, and the program notes huge gains in language acquisition because of it.

In addition, Raiders ARK offers supports for family members that include free English classes and other parent programming. To boost parent engagement in these programs, Raiders ARK provides a meal and childcare for young children if parents are unable to find their own childcare option.

The communities served by 21st CCLC programs are often the ones most in need of resources, yet are least likely to have them. However, because of 21st CCLC funding, programs are able to reach these communities most in need, providing critical supports to help children grow and develop into responsible and contributing members of society, despite the barriers they may be faced with at birth.

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