The 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative has transformed afternoons for children in Independence, Missouri. With a population of just over 114,000, Independence is the fourth largest city in the state, and the Independence School District serves 11,000 students at 13 elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools.
Before the 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) initiative launched in 1998, few schools in the Independence District offered afterschool programming. Those programs were supported by fees, which all but precluded low-income children from participating in them. As a result, student participation was extremely low with only 20 to 30 students at each site.
The 21st CCLC grant changed all that. The first grant supported two middle schools, but since then 21st CCLC-supported afterschool has expanded to ten elementary schools and all three middle schools. Even the three non-21st CCLC elementary schools are able to offer afterschool programming, an acknowledgement that afterschool programs are something Independence parents have come to expect.
To make ends meet, programs still charge fees, but the 21st CCLC grant gives programs the financial means to waive or reduce fees for low-income families. With 40 percent of the district’s students receiving free or reduced price lunch, that flexibility makes a huge difference. The afterschool programs have also been able to use the 21st CCLC grant to leverage additional support, including several state grants, and in-kind support from the school district and from individual schools.
With afterschool activities ranging from karate, science clubs, etiquette and homework help, the 21st CCLC-supported afterschool programs, in the words of district afterschool coordinator Erica Smith, “provide young people with opportunities that they never would have had otherwise.” She calls afterschool “a great value to the whole community.”
The impact of the 21st CCLC grant is also felt beyond afterschool. The grant supported the creation of site councils, comprised of school officials, parents, community groups and students. The councils serve as community liaisons, identifying community needs and identifying resources within the community that could enhance participants’ afterschool experience. Independence has made great use of the councils. For example, one council identified a need for a food pantry and worked with the community to create one, providing food for those who needed it most. The councils have also helped create classes geared toward parents, covering such topics as computer literacy, ballroom dancing and quilting.