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Snacks by Robert Abare
SEP
29
2016

LIGHTS ON
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Senate passes unanimous resolution in support of Lights On Afterschool 2016

By Robert Abare

Today, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution in commemoration of the 17th annual celebration of Lights On Afterschool. U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair of the Senate Afterschool Caucus, along with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) praised the passage of the resolution, which recognizes the only national celebration of afterschool programs and their role in keeping kids safe, insipiring them to learn and helping working families.

"I am so pleased that the Senate recognizes the importance of high-quality afterschool programs,” said Senator Boxer. “These programs help keep our children safe, improve student performance and enrich our kids’ education with activities like music, art, sports and so much more.”

“Afterschool programs provide an enriching environment for students once the school day has ended,” said Senator Collins. “By engaging young people in academic and physical activities, these programs enhance students’ education and help promote healthy habits. In addition, afterschool programs provide parents with peace of mind knowing that their children are in a safe and structured setting.”

This resolution is co-sponsored by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Al Franken (D-MN).

Senator Boxer authored legislation in 2001 that lead to the first major national investment in afterschool programs. Last year, Senator Boxer’s Afterschool for America’s Children Act was included in the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was signed by President Obama last DecemberThis provision not only ensured a dedicated source of federal funding for afterschool, but will help to modernize the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program, improve states’ ability to effectively support quality afterschool programs, and ensure afterschool activities complement the academic curriculum.

Register for Lights On and you could win!

Next month, more than one million people are expected to attend more than 8,000 Lights On Afterschool events across the nation. It's not too late to start planning an event in your community! Register for Lights On Afterschool by October 6, and you'll be entered to win a prize pack from WRiTE BRAiN BOOKS, which allows kids to author and publish their very own children's books!

SEP
28
2016

IN THE FIELD
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Evaluating afterschool: Tips for getting started from Dallas Afterschool

By Robert Abare

Program evaluation can be an overwhelming and intimidating undertaking for afterschool program providers. There are questions ranging from where to start to what to do with evaluation results and everything in-between that program providers need to think about. To answer some of the common questions raised by afterschool program providers about evaluations and to help make evaluations more approachable, the Afterschool Alliance has started a new blog series,"Evaluating afterschool," on program evaluation best practices. For this blog series, the Afterschool Alliance turns to program providers in the field who can offer tips and lessons learned on their evaluation journey.

The first blog of this series is written by Rachel Johns, the research and evaluation manager at Dallas Afterschool in Dallas, Texas. Dallas Afterschool promotes, expands and improves the quality of afterschool and summer programs in low income neighborhoods in our community.

This spring, Dallas Afterschool released findings from the 2014-2015 school year as part of an ongoing, engaged evaluation process. Our dynamic partnership with the Center on Research and Evaluation at Southern Methodist University has allowed us to explore questions about how to improve the quality of afterschool programs effectively and efficiently, and how the quality of an afterschool program might affect students in our context. As we enter our fourth year of this evaluation, we'd like to share some of what we have learned in the process.         

Considerations for practitioners

While an evaluation as extensive as Dallas Afterschool’s may not be practical for all organizations due to financial or human capacity restraints, there are many ways to enhance your benefit from any evaluation process.

  1. Clearly define the questions you want answered and circle back to them often. These questions are the guidepost for your evaluation and can help keep you focused on the pieces of data and the analyses that matter most. Evaluation becomes less useful when it lacks direction or tries to address too many questions.
  2. Plan for more time than you think you need. If you know what questions your evaluation is asking and what data needs to be collected to answer those questions, then you have a great start. Collecting your own data can make scheduling simple, but if you rely on colleagues to collect some of it, plan for an extra week buffer. Competing priorities can make data collection fall to the back burner, but good data collection is essential for a useful evaluation. Additionally, the amount of time it takes to clean that data to make it ready for analysis can be hard to estimate. When data is derived from many different sources or is collected inconsistently, you never know what you might find or need to correct.
  3. Regularly monitor your data to save a headache in the end. Especially if several people are collecting and entering data, regular monitoring of the data can give you the opportunity to retrain before a lot of time is wasted on data “cleaning” and correcting work that has already been done.
  4. Provide more support than you expect people will need. Some people may not need training or support, but you never know who will. You may need to document protocols for data collection, provide periodic trainings, or help staff and stakeholders to understand the process and the results.

Leveraging a university partner

Dallas Afterschool partners with a local university to access expertise in evaluation design and analysis, as well as to enhance our self-reflection with external perspectives. Though choosing a university partner and engaging with them throughout the evaluation process may be daunting or even confusing, consider the following to maximize your organization’s benefit and enjoyment of the process.

  1. Know what you want. Do you simply need a report for a specific grant requirement, or are you looking for a thought partner to challenge your assumptions about your program and help you make it even better? Many evaluators jump at the chance to help a program that truly desires to improve and is willing to engage with them throughout the entire process.
  2. Develop a symbiotic relationship. Find out what research the university is interested in doing that your organization might be able to help with. Are they working on anything that might benefit your field or an issue related to your population? By opening your program to engage in research or evaluations that align with your mission but extend beyond your own evaluation, you can develop a relationship with your University partner that is beneficial to both entities and potentially addresses systemic issues that your program could not affect on its own.
  3. Trust their academic expertise but challenge the practical application of results. University partners can provide excellent direction on the design and methods of your evaluation, but you know your population best. If they propose an angle for the evaluation that doesn’t seem especially useful to your program or its participants, push back and work together to find an angle that does. Evaluators want their work to be used to help programs and the people they serve, so don’t be shy.
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learn more about: Evaluations Community Partners
SEP
21
2016

IN THE FIELD
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Gwinnett County's summer camp for kids gets boost from HEPA standards

By Robert Abare

Written by Matt Freeman

This past summer, more than 3,700 elementary and middle school children in the Atlanta, Georgia area took part in the Summer Camp Healthy Habits Program, a program run by Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation (GCPR). Over the course of seven weeks, children’s weekly lessons included such topics as healthy habits for the entire family, how to eat healthfully while dining out, the USDA’s MyPlate coloring tools, oral hygiene, germs, dehydration and food allergies. There were healthy doses of hands-on activities, sugar demonstrations revealing the amount of sugar in common drinks and snacks, and physical fitness challenges.

That rich menu of program offerings owes much to GCPR’s 2014 implementation of Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards in its summer program. The standards transformed a program built around standard summer camp activities into a focused program designed to educate campers and families on how to make low-fat food choices, eat high-fiber diets, drink more water and exercise regularly. “We’ve got two main goals with the program,” said Lindsey Jorstad, GCPR Community Services Outreach Manager. “First, we want to help kids and their families get and stay healthy by reducing obesity rates, improving cardiovascular fitness, and boosting campers’ confidence and self-esteem. Second, we want to teach them how to be healthy for the rest of their lives.”

The program aims to reach beyond the campers as well. Parents receive weekly “Strong4Life” tips by way of a take-home newsletter and they’re encouraged to pack at least one healthy lunch or snack item each day. Campers were also encouraged to bring a reusable water bottle every day, and GCPR made sure they had constant access to drinking water. This summer, GCPR expanded the program to include community partners, who came to camp to conduct a variety of wellness activities. The University of Georgia Extension program led hands-on recipe lessons; the Gwinnett County Public Library visited to get campers excited about summer reading; the Kaiser Educational Theatre of Georgia brought its puppet, Mumford the Dog, to talk about water safety; the American Red Cross educated campers on how to be prepared for emergencies; and the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta ran summer long science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities that included Shaving Cream Rain Clouds, Crystal Stars, Magic Milk and Oobleck!

One of the most popular forms of exercise at GCPR’s camp is swimming, so with the goal of decreasing the number of aquatic-related emergencies, the camp offered swimming lessons. Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that the rate of drowning among African American children is nearly three times the rate for their white peers, and other research points to disparities in swimming ability among African American and Latino children. GCPR gave free swimming lessons to more than 400 children this summer, most of them children of color.

“Our commitment to HEPA is threaded throughout the entire program,” said Tina Fleming, GCPR Director of Community Services, “and it’s made a huge difference in the work we do. We’d always been focused on physical activity, but HEPA added a layer of evidence-based intentionality to what we’re doing that helps guide us. And it also persuaded us to reach out more to parents, hoping to encourage year-round, healthy lifestyles at home—not just during the day at summer camp. It’s been a huge boost to our work.”

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learn more about: Health and Wellness Summer Learning
SEP
2
2016

STEM
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How afterschool-library partnerships are engaging kids in STEM

By Robert Abare

A social media graphic designed by the Afterschool Alliance to promote afterschool-library partnerships.

The Afterschool Alliance has partnered with the Science Technology Activities and Resources Library Education Network (STAR_Net) to highlight the ways afterschool programs are partnering with local libraries to introduce kids to valuable science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning experiences. A project of the Space Science Institute’s National Center for Interactive Learning, STAR_Net unites an array of partner organizations to provide interactive STEM exhibits, programming and training to public libraries nationwide.

Often regarded as quiet places for kids to read or study, local libraries are revealing their potential to get kids learning in dynamic ways—from hands-on learning exhibits to conducting science experiments. STAR_Net is helping libraries engage their communities with many of the following resources, made possible through a grant from the National Science Foundation:

  • Large, hands-on exhibits that are currently traveling to various public libraries across the USA. The exhibits—Discover Space, Discover Earth and Discover Tech—introduce kids to various scientific arenas.
  • Online and in-person training for library staff, which introduces them to the STEM content of the exhibits, and guides them in developing complementary programming.
  • A public awareness campaign, led by the Afterschool Alliance, to promote STAR_Net exhibits or resources among the afterschool field and highlight afterschool-library partnerships on social media with a series of shareable graphics.

How STAR_Net can bring more STEM to your program

STAR_Net also offers a number of resources that afterschool programs can use to develop quality STEM programming and stay up-to-date on trends and activities in the STEM field.

  • Webinars and webinar recordings cover a range of topics, from an international celebration of the Moon to interactive citizen science projects.
  • Browse ongoing STAR_Net projects to learn more about their content and see if any exhibits are visiting a library near your program.
  • Online games can make STEM learning fun, like Starchitect, which has kids design their own solar systems.

How STAR_Net turned a library into a pop-up science museum

The Ypsilanti District Library in Ypsilanti Township, Michigan is just one of many local libraries that has used resources from STAR_Net to engage afterschool youth. The library has hosted a variety of exhibits since it opened, but STAR_Net's Discover Tech exhibit was the library’s first to incorporate dynamic, hands-on experiences that teach kids about STEM and its various applications.

“Historically, exhibits haven’t been hands-on in this way—which was new and exciting for the community!” said Kristel Sexton, Youth Services Librarian at the library. “For partners and organizations in the community, it helped them see libraries can do STEM. We can be experts in STEM, and we can support you in this.”

Afterschool-library partnerships are not only proving that libraries can be experts in STEM learning, they are creating mutually beneficial relationships to ensure kids are in safe, nuturing environments after school, and that kids are aware of all the resources available to them in their community.

AUG
31
2016

IN THE FIELD
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How your program can observe 9/11 Day

By Robert Abare

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

It may seem strange that most children in afterschool programs today have no memory of the attacks that shook the country nearly 15 years ago on September 11, 2001. To help ensure our nation's youth never forget the legacy of that day, the Afterschool Alliance has joined a coalition of 20 organizations to encourage service, empathy and unity on the 15th anniversary of 9/11. Called Tomorrow Together, the initiative includes large-scale service projects on and around September 11, 2016 to unite people across the nation in doing good works, like working to eliminate hunger or writing letters to troops overseas.

There are a number of ways your program can get kids involved in this national day of observance while learning about community service, empathy and working together.

Tools for your program to honor 9/11

  • Search for a 9/11 Day event in your community to join, or to offer your program as a partner.
  • Host a community service project using this toolkit designed to help nonprofits, schools and afterschool programs plan and coordinate an event.
  • Use these service-learning lesson plans developed by the National Youth Leadership Council, Ashoka and other organizations to teach kids about the history of 9/11, the importance of empathy, and other lessons.
  • Find logos for Tomorrow Together in various formats for social media and other publications, and check out these Tomorrow Together t-shirts for your staff or program participants. 
  • View a full gallery of 9/11 photos.  
AUG
26
2016

IN THE FIELD
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How an afterschool program recruited a US Senator as a powerful ally

By Robert Abare

LA’s BEST has long been creating Better Educated Students for Tomorrow—since its founding in 1988, the program has grown to serve over 25,000 kids at 193 elementary schools across Los Angeles, particularly in neighborhoods vulnerable to gangs, drugs and crime. US Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has been an ally of the program for almost just as long, dating back to her first site visit to LA’s BEST in 1992.

Hosting Boxer at a site visit was a critical way for LA’s BEST to establish a relationship with the Senator, who then boosted the profile of the program locally and nationally while securing funding for programs across the nation. Most recently, Boxer helped accomplish this goal by working to preserve and strengthen the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative in the nation’s new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Boxer, who is retiring after her term ends in 2016, recently capped off her championing of LA’s BEST and afterschool in general by visiting the program for a final site visit earlier this month. During the course of her visit, she interacted with kids as they showed off the many opportunities offered by the program, including digital learning and coding lessons, a dance performance and learning math through Legos.

Boxer held a press conference following the visit, where she took questions from both the media and youth who participate in LA’s BEST. Boxer described how her experiences with LA’s BEST inspired her to become a national champion of afterschool.

“…when I saw [LA’s BEST], I knew I had to take it nationwide. And we did it together,” she said. “We created that national program, which serves more than a million kids every single day and it’s because of LA’s BEST…”

Gurna elaborated on how the partnership between LA’s BEST and Senator Boxer not only benefitted LA’s BEST, but afterschool across the USA. “The relationship with Senator Boxer is ideal because it developed from her being inspired by our program to her becoming a national advocate for afterschool.”

“This is a great example of how elected officials need to have a personal experience with a program to see what they are accomplishing,” Gurna explained. “Officials need to see how afterschool provides critical experiences that expand learning and horizons, and see how afterschool opportunities are not that different from what they want their own kids to experience.”

“Our more than 25 year relationship with Senator Boxer is testament to the fact that we have to get officials out there meeting kids, staff and seeing the power of afterschool with their own eyes.”

Gurna added, “Elected officials just need an access point—and any high quality afterschool program can fill that role.”

AUG
25
2016

LIGHTS ON
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Announcing the winner of the national Lights On Afterschool poster contest!

By Robert Abare

After reviewing hundreds of submissions from afterschool artists from across the country (and the world!), the Afterschool Alliance is thrilled to announce the winner of the 2016 Lights On Afterschool poster contest: Baldwin County High School’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program in Bay Minette, Alabama!

The winning artwork will be printed on 50,000 posters and sent to all registered Lights On Afterschool events to help spread the word about the celebration. Register your event today to receive ten free posters!

About the artists

The winning poster was designed by program participants Maia Austin (17), Gabby Williams (17), and Marquez Drinkard (16). The artists were particularly inspired by the many arts activities offered by their afterschool program, including dance teams, visual art projects and cooking classes. The finished product was truly a team effort, as the poster is comprised of many separate drawings that were cut out and then pasted together.

“We talked about our favorite aspects of our program, and then we decided what we wanted the poster to look like, and who would draw each part.” explained Marquez. “As you can see, we wanted it to be very colorful as well.”

Marquez, who is still figuring out his plans for after high school, is considering a career in nursing, along with fellow artist Maia Austin. Gabby Williams, on the other hand, plans to serve in the United States Air Force.

About the program

Gabby expressed her gratitude for the opportunities offered by Baldwin County High School’s 21st CCLC program. “I love the program because it’s something productive I can do after school,” she said. “I really like the cooking classes, and being with my friends at the same time.”

She added, “My parents think the program is great, because it keeps me busy when I could be doing things that kids aren’t supposed to do.”

The Baldwin County High School 21st CCLC program serves approximately 40 students 4 days per week, and offers a range of activities that include tutoring, arts enrichment, archery, college and career exploration, and robotics.

Michele Hall, director of the program, explained how the program has provided a valuable service for her community’s kids after school. “As a teacher at the high school, I saw that we had a large number of students who were not involved after school and didn’t have opportunities, partly due to our rural location,” she explained. “Now, the program is helping these kids grow academically and socially.”

About the contest

This year, the Lights On Afterschool poster contest received over 400 submissions from 21 states—and from a U.S. military base in Japan! The poster was selected in a vote by Afterschool Alliance staff in Washington, D.C.

The winning artists’ program will receive a case of syrups, courtesy of Torani, for a shaved ice or soda party. Visit the redesigned Lights On Afterschool website to search for event ideas, learn strategies to engage the media and download graphics and artwork to make your event shine.

And don’t forget to register your event to get 10 copies of the 2016 Lights On Afterschool in your program’s mailbox!

AUG
22
2016

IN THE FIELD
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HEPA provides Santa Clara YMCA with sense of commitment, common language

By Robert Abare

Written by Matt Freeman

Kids enjoyed reading a book with Andrew Tarbell of the San Jose Earthquakes during a YMCA of Silicon Valley summer meal program event. Photo courtesy of the YMCA of Silicon Valley on Facebook.

For Mary Hoshiko Haughey of the YMCA of the Silicon Valley in Santa Clara, California, the push toward healthy eating and physical fitness has been underway for a very long time. “We were working on this long before the Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards were developed,” she says, “so once the YMCA-USA signed on to the standards, we were early adopters.”

Haughey is Senior Vice President for Operations for the local YMCA, and her pre-HEPA work brought the Y and its afterschool programs into partnerships at the federal, state and local levels. Working with a Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, they worked to combat diabetes in the Latino community. Two Carol M. White Physical Education Program grants helped equip afterschool programs and train staff in evidence-based curriculum. In addition, the Y was a demonstration site for the California Healthy Behaviors Initiative, a joint effort between the state Department of Public Health and the nonprofit Center for Collaborative Solutions.

That effort paved the way for a partnership with the Santa Clara county health department in which the Y’s afterschool programs were a vehicle for an effort to increase youth physical activity and encourage healthy eating. The county produced a resource guidebook, Fit for Learning, aimed at fully integrating healthy eating and physical activity into school lesson-planning, and the Y produced a corollary for afterschool programs, Fit for Afterschool. Both guides have since been integrated into one resource.

When HEPA standards came along, the local Y of Silicon Valley was quick to embrace them, and the standards are now in place in all of its 108 afterschool and early learning sites, as well as its summer learning and camping programs. In addition, the Ys employ the SPARK curriculum, a research-based physical education program, as well as several nutrition education curricula from various public health partners.

Each of the sites offers daily physical activity for children, providing opportunities for the moderate to vigorous exercise called for under HEPA. “We’ve also restricted screen time,” Haughey says. “Now if there’s a screen on, it’s because a child is doing homework or some activity specifically targeted at academic enrichment. They’re not watching a movie!”

“We’d made a lot of headway on healthy eating and physical activity before HEPA, but the standards still helped us in important ways,” Haughey added. “HEPA gave us a sense of commitment to a shared effective practice, and a common language to talk about it with our colleagues locally and across the nation. When I get together with colleagues from Tennessee, we can talk about the challenges and successes.”

Overcoming obstacles to build a healthier community

The effort continues to face some important challenges, and Haughey says the Y has learned a lot along the way. “One thing that becomes clear when you really start working with communities living in poverty,” she says, “is that you can’t just tell people, ‘go eat healthy food and be active.’ There are food deserts that make it hard for people to find fruits and vegetables. And the built environment in their communities isn’t safe. So we’ve really dug into it with our community, challenging ourselves to think about how we make it doable for families living in poverty.”

One other aspect of HEPA that Haughey particularly appreciates is that it’s a vehicle for feedback and engagement with parents. “We let our parents know about HEPA,” she says, “and they help hold us accountable. We’re not perfect, and sometimes staff get a little ‘creative,’ and then I get phone calls from parents. I’m glad to hear from them, and it’s helped create a broader awareness among our parents and families. It’s good to be accountable to them.”