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State Perspectives in Expanded Learning: The Role of Statewide Afterschool Networks

September 30, 2013 01:00 PM

With the demand for afterschool and summer programs reaching new heights, educators and policymakers are recognizing the benefit of a coordinated approach to expanded learning opportunities. Program providers, such as schools, intermediaries, nonprofits, faith-based groups, and other stakeholders, work together to provide high quality programming. Of the last decade, stateside afterschool networks have played a critical role in promoting such coordination, demonstrating how expanded learning in these programs can complement and reinforce school day lessons.

The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF) held a program on Friday, September 27 in Washington, DC, that provided an overview of how afterschool networks support the work of providers and how they work alongside multiple stakeholders that include state agencies, community-based intermediaries, and program providers. The forum panel consisted of Terry Peterson, Director of the After School National Resource Network and Chairman of the Board of the Afterschool Alliance; Laveta Wills-Hale, Network Coordinator of the Arkansas Out of School Network; and Michelle Doucette Cunningham, Executive Director of the Connecticut After School Network. The panel shared their perspectives on the qualities of a highly functioning afterschool network, the supports they provide, and how federal policy can support or hinder such work.

Prior to the formation of the afterschool networks—41 states now have such programs—hundreds of organizations involved in this space were disconnected from each other and frequently not linked to schools or broader youth development efforts. Currently, these networks provide a range of coordinated supports in the form of research, resources, professional development, and technical assistance to state and local level stakeholders. These afterschool networks develop valuable expertise in both policy and practice issues and are helping more children succeed by working to ensure they have access to high-quality expanded learning opportunities.

“Afterschool programs using e-based approaches are consistently successful, producing multiple benefits for youth, including improvement in a child’s personal, social, and academic skills and self-esteem,” said Peterson. “And yet there are 18 million parents who want their kids in afterschool programs but can’t find one.”

The successes of these networked afterschool programs is bringing them to the attention of districts and states where such programs are rare. “The programs have a collective impact from their successes,” said Peterson. “We are seeing them impact policy, such as the passing of legislation updating the Maryland Afterschool and Summer Opportunity Fund or the addition of one million dollars to the Michigan state budget for increasing youth physical activity.”

The collective impact is seen in other areas as well, such as the Statewide Quality Summit in Louisiana, the statewide youth-led, youth-driven science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) Summit in North Carolina, mayoral summits in nine different states, and leveraging $1.5 million for STEM out-of-school time in Indiana.

Wills-Hale shared that the Arkansas Out of School Network (AOSN) helps strengthen, expand, and sustain the state’s school-based and school-linked services to children and youth since its establishment in 2004 as a sponsored initiative of Arkansas State University Childhood Services within the College of Education. “AOSN has established resources and partnerships with several local, state, and federal agencies to help extend the reach of the network to more children, and create pathways for partners to become engaged.” Wills-Hale mentioned resource partnerships with the Department of Human Services, the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, the Arkansas School Boards Association, and the state’s Department of Education, among others. “Leveraging with our resources and network partners, AOSN has helped start and continue local initiatives such as the Arkansas Grade Level Reading Campaign, the Healthy Communities Initiative, and the Arkansas STEM Coalition and STEM Authority, among others.”

Cunningham focused more on how the Connecticut After School Network has coordinated with policymakers through various partnerships. Several state agencies, such as education, social services, justice, and health, as well as elected officials and private philanthropists have come alongside the network to provide quality improvements in various areas such as training and technical assistance, quality standards, and data collection. “Grassroots advocacy has also been successful,” said Cunningham. “The network has helped bring about a $4.5 million state grant program for afterschool programs and an Annual After school Day at the state capitol. Coordination of advocacy messages is important through various communications channels such as email and social media.”

Peterson concluded by emphasizing that “with the success of state afterschool networks, an additional focus should be on networking the state networks.” Stronger coordination would take advantage of essential federal tools to provide further development and growth of statewide policies that will sustain new and existing afterschool programs. “Successful afterschool programs expand the learning potential in our nation’s youth,” he said. “By furthering the reach of these programs and leveraging partnerships across the local, state, and federal levels, more children are impacted and will benefit from their education, which in turn benefits our nation’s future.”

For further information on the topic, the AYPF suggested The Wallace Foundation reports Is Citywide Afterschool Coordination Going Nationwide? An Exploratory Study in Large Cities  and Getting to Work on Summer Learning: Recommended Practices for Success, as well as Expanding Minds and Opportunities, edited by Terry Peterson. AYPF also suggested visiting the Expanded Learning & Afterschool Project and the Statewide Afterschool Network websites.


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