The Tucson, Arizona Unified School District has long recognized the importance afterschool opportunities, even before the creation of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) initiative. But despite extensive community involvement and support from Tucson and surrounding Pima county, funding was insufficient to provide afterschool to all children who needed it. So providers made hard choices, including limiting afterschool mostly to elementary students, and charging a fee for participation, which made it more difficult for children from low-income families to participate.
A grant from the 21st CCLC initiative helped alleviate the monetary crunch considerably, funding programs at three Tucson middle schools. The community stepped up to support these programs, too. A local Air Force base contributed programming, a nearby volunteer center facilitated service learning activities, parents and school cafeteria employees came in to teach cooking classes, and various others from the community helped provide tutoring and enrichment opportunities. When the 21st CCLC grant expired, Pima County stepped in to pay for much of the programming. When grantmaking authority for the 21st CCLC switched to the state, the district received another grant, this one to support programming focused on music for elementary school students.
As a result, Tucson schools now have seven 21st CCLC-supported sites. The program still faces a host of challenges – keeping middle school students engaged, sustaining programs in rural areas, and finding funding to engage parents and adult community members in meaningful ways. But few doubt that 21st CCLC support has helped grow the pool of available afterschool offerings so that many more children in Tucson have access to a safe and enriching afterschool program.
“The school communities that have received the 21st CCLC funding have provided students and parents with a vibrant, safe, and educational environment for students to continue their intellectual and artistic development,” says Dr. Barbara Benton, former Project Director. “Without this program many of our school communities would not have experienced the support of the immediate neighborhood…. The taxpayers have become more interested in supporting these schools because they see that the buildings are used after school hours and weekends. The programs have taken extra stress off of working parents because they know that their children are in a safe environment during the hours between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m.”