RSS | Go To: afterschoolalliance.org
Get Afterschool Updates
Afterschool Snack, the afterschool blog. The latest research, resources, funding and policy on expanding quality afterschool and summer learning programs for children and youth. An Afterschool Alliance resource.
Afterschool Donation
Afterschool on Facebook
Afterschool on Twitter
Blogs We Read Afterschool Snack Bloggers
Select blogger:
In the Field Snacks
SEP
28
2016

IN THE FIELD
email
print

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.
share this link: http://bit.ly/2d7fqDi
learn more about: Evaluations Community Partners
SEP
27
2016

IN THE FIELD
email
print

New trends in afterschool covered at 21st CCLC Summer Institute

By Elizabeth Tish

This past July, the U.S. Department of Education held the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) 2016 Summer Institute in Phoenix, AZ, where presenters shared their valuable experiences and insights about how to develop, implement and sustain successful 21st CCLC afterschool programs

The Afterschool Alliance team presented on a number of topics:

  • The state of 21st CCLC. For the Institute’s opening plenary session, Executive Director of the Afterschool Alliance Jodi Grant joined Rhonda Lauer of Foundations, Inc. and Sylvia Lyles of the U.S. Department of Education to outline the current status of 21st CCLC. Their presentation primarily focused on the recent passage of the new national education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, and how the law aims to improve the education and afterschool landscapes.
  • Juvenile justice. Executive Director Jodi Grant also joined Marcel Braithwaite of the Police Athletic League and Marcia Dvorak of the Kansas Enrichment Network in a breakout session on investing in afterschool and juvenile justice partnerships. Their presentation explored the current research on juvenile crime and the ways afterschool programs can get involved to make communities safer.
  • New science standards. STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Manager for the Afterschool Alliance Melissa Ballard joined Rachel Chase of the Hunter Case 21st CCLC program to present on the Next Generation Science Standards and their implications in afterschool. These standards for STEM learning have already been adopted by many states and school districts across the country.

Resources from presentations at the 21st CCLC Summer Institute have just now become available! You download them on the 2016 21st CCLC Summer Institute website

SEP
21
2016

IN THE FIELD
email
print

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.”

share this link: http://bit.ly/2cLpdi7
learn more about: Health and Wellness Summer Learning
SEP
20
2016

IN THE FIELD
email
print

Guest blog: New digital tools for teaching prosocial skills from PBS's Arthur

By Robert Abare

Written by Anne Beatty, Outreach Project Director for the AIM Buddy Project at WGBH

For two decades, millions of children and their families have tuned in to PBS’s children’s series Arthur for funny and authentic portrayals of childhood life. Children see themselves in the characters and identify with them as they learn to navigate the daily challenges of childhood with kindness, empathy, and respect for self and others.

This year, Arthur is celebrating its 20th year on public television! With more than 200 animated stories, WGBH, the Boston-based public broadcaster and producer of this award-winning series, continues to use Arthur and the power of storytelling to carefully guide children through a wide variety of topics—from everyday issues such as losing a tooth to more difficult topics such dealing with bullying behaviors.

Over the years, Arthur has been modeling prosocial behaviors for kids and emphasizing the importance of communication. The Arthur Interactive Media (AIM) Buddy Project is WGBH’s latest initiative to help children build social, emotional, and character skills and attitudes and help educators, caregivers, and children deal with the ongoing problem of bullying behaviors. With a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation, WGBH partnered with a research team from Tufts University to develop and test the AIM Buddy Project.

The AIM Buddy Project leverages the universal appeal of the Arthur characters, a cross-age buddy format, and a solid research base in character development and adds a unique component—interactive media—to encourage thoughtful discussions between older and younger pairs around five topics—empathy, honesty, forgiveness, generosity and learning from others. Exposure to and practice with these five topics helps children build the skills and attitudes they need to empathize with others and build positive relationships that result in safer, more caring learning environments.

SEP
19
2016

IN THE FIELD
email
print

Guest blog: AmeriCorps VISTAs encourage unity through service on the anniversary of 9/11

By Robert Abare

Written by Ligea Alexander, an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) for Summer and Afterschool Meals Expansion, a project sponsored by the Afterschool Alliance.

This past weekend, I joined hundreds of other volunteers in the AARP Meal Pack Challenge to commemorate the 15th anniversary of 9/11. The challenge, which debuted last year, raises awareness of the increasing number of elderly persons who experience poverty and are food insecure. It also honors all the veterans and retired first responders who have dedicated their lives to serve others.

Along with my fellow VISTAs, I joined volunteers from across the nation and Canada, including Girl Scout troops, members of the elderly community, teenagers, college alums, returning volunteers and those in service to America. This dynamic group of people who united to answer the call of elderly hunger reflected a similar variation of those who united in the aftermath of the attacks on 9/11. Housed under a tent just a few steps away from the WW Memorial, we formed packing tables for soy, rice, beans and essential vitamins combined to form low-prep meals. These specially formulated meals would then meet the nutritional needs of recipient seniors.

With music keeping our spirits high and energized, I paused for a minute to appreciate the momentum of the event. Some of us were dancing to the music, others were smiling for the cameras documenting the event, and everyone was focused on meeting the 1.5 million target of packed meals. Although this was my first time participating in the challenge, I easily became acquainted with many second time volunteers from the year before. At my table alone, all age groups were represented, including a 4-year-old boy whose enthusiasm in packing meals into boxes was incredibly heart-moving.

When two day event came to a close, over 1.5 million meals had been packaged. As an AmeriCorps Summer and Afterschool Meals Expansion VISTA, I appreciate having participated in this challenge very deeply as I continue my advocacy to eradicate hunger from all who experience it.

share this link: http://bit.ly/2cDBaWX
learn more about: Events and Briefings Service Vista
SEP
12
2016

IN THE FIELD
email
print

Summer learning attracts attention of National Academies

By Jen Rinehart

Infographic courtesty of the National Summer Learning Association.

In late August, the Board on Children, Youth & Families at the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine hosted a day-long workshop focused on summertime opportunities to promote healthy child and adolescent development. Back in 1999, a similar workshop, which focused on Opportunities to Promote Child and Adolescent Development During the After-School Hours, led to the publication of Community Programs to Promote Youth Development, an important resource for funders, policy makers and afterschool practitioners. 

It was great to see the National Academies return attention to the important role of out-of-school time learning. The summertime opportunities workshop highlighted the latest research on summer and explored linkages between summer programs and the broader ecosystem of learning, including schools, museums, libraries and afterschool programs. It was a day of great discussions that reflected the diverse community and accomplishments of summer learning and afterschool programs. 

The workshop featured sessions on the achievement gap, the value of play, reducing obesity, city-systems, program quality and evaluation and role of afterschool and summer in the overall learning ecosystem. A sampling of a few of the organizations on the panels include the Association of Children’s Museums, the Food Research and Action Center, the National League of Cities and the American Institutes for Research. The Afterschool Alliance was glad to included on a panel focusing on ecosystems that support children's development, alongside representatives from the national YMCA and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Better understanding of summer learning on the horizon

The day-long workshop set the stage for a potential effort to produce a “consensus study,” which would provide new information and recommendations to inform federal, state, and local policy decisions about how best to use the summer months to support the healthy development of America's children. With new research out from the RAND Corporation and The Wallace Foundation showing gains in math and reading among elementary school students with high levels of attendance in voluntary summer learning programs, the timing of a more thorough investigation into summer learning by the National Academies could not be better!

The PowerPoint presentations from the workshop are available on the National Academies website and videos of the workshop sessions will be posted to in the next couple of weeks. An 8-page written summary of the workshop proceedings is anticipated to be released in early November, which we will be sure to share with readers.

AUG
31
2016

IN THE FIELD
email
print

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
email
print

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.”