Research & Action Report Fall/Winter 2002
Little attention was being paid to the development of after-school opportunities Twenty-five years ago when Michelle (Mickey) Seligson and Jim Levine met to create the School-Age Child Care Project. At that time, Jim was assistant director for the Human Relations-Youth Resources Commission in Brookline, Massachusetts, and Mickey was helping several parent groups in Brookline set up afterschool day care programs. When mention of Mickey's projects in two national magazines drew over 1,500 letters requesting more information, it became clear that there was a great need for such projects across the country.
As a result, the School-Age Child Care Project was launched at the Center for Research on Women. It eventually evolved into the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) with Seligson as the founding director.
Today, when national policy makers, educators, parents, and the public at large recognize the significance of children's after-school hours, NIOST has a reason to celebrate. Its work over the years has brought national attention to these issues. Since policy makers have recognized the promise of out-of-school time, millions of dollars of funding and resources have been directed to support quality after-school programs. For example, the funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers has grown from $1 million to over $1 billion in seven years.
As part of the Center for Research on Women, NIOST has not only successfully brought national attention to the importance of children's out-of-school time but it has also increased standards and professional recognition and spearheaded community action aimed at improving the availability, quality, and viability of these programs. "We are very happy to say that the national standards for school-age care and the self-study process for program improvement of after-school activities were
born here," says Ellen Gannett, co-director of NIOST.
From its inception, a key feature of NIOST's work has been the research-based, collaborative approach to creating innovative and effective solutions to out-of-school-time needs from the individual to the national level. NIOST worked with the National School-Age Care Alliance (NSACA) to develop Standards for Quality School-Age Care for the implementation of the National Program Improvement and Accreditation System. NIOST continues to offer technical assistance and training to local organizations, school districts, and individual programs and to assist them in creating, implementing, and evaluating their programs.
NIOST is a national leader in program implementation and in highly interactive, research-based training with an emphasis on building local leadership capacity. It trains after-school directors and staff, school administrators, community leaders, and others through a variety of workshops, seminars, customized training programs, and multiyear community programs. "With our Â‘train the trainer' approach," says Gannett, "we make an impact on the entire after-school community."
The pioneering work done by NIOST boasts many "firsts," including the $6.5 million MOST Initiative, the National Cross- Cities Network for Leaders of Citywide After-School Initiatives, and CityWorks Initiatives. In 1994, when the MOST Initiative was launched, it represented a big step towards organizing communities around after-school issues, as many had done for preschool, according to Joyce Shortt, MOST project director and co-director of NIOST. After-school time is complicated to
organize because it includes so many different types of programs: licensed, unlicensed, drop-in, clubs, single-focus activities, and others. MOST developed a coordinated out-ofschool-time system in three cities: Boston, Chicago, and Seattle. This approach provided these communities with a way to measure the demand for and the supply, quality, and standards of out-of-school-time programs, and a way to reach the practitioners in the larger out-of-school-time field.
Another NIOST project, the National Cross-Cities Network for Leaders of Citywide After-School Initiatives, brings 25 leaders in major cities across the U.S. together on a regular basis to explore common issues and develop personal relationships to sustain their work. Built on the successful foundation of the Cross-Cities Network, another NIOST initiative, CityWorks, is designed to investigate the development of infrastructures that can support sustainable quality program outcomes. The Network will strengthen and enhance citywide after-school initiatives and the communities they serve.
The high degree of interest and growth in resources create new challenges in the field. "We feel that although the increased attention to after-school issues is a welcome change, it also brings many challenges," says Shortt. Since children's out-of-school time is seen as a way to address a wide range of issues, from social ills to strengthening academic excellence, the policy makers and funding agencies remain divided as to what the goal of after-school activities should be. In fact, there are many goals for the after-school time. To integrate them into one coherent whole can be a challenge to the providers. The current emphasis on academic requirements makes it tempting for communities to use the after-school time for teaching academic skills. "Our challenge is to make sure that the after-school time does not become extended school time," says Shortt. Some after-school-care providers, especially providers who are not part of the school system, feel excluded from the surge of new initiatives and funding sources because many of these are directed at school districts.
To address these challenges, NIOST has developed a "three circles" framework in which "school-age child care," "youth development," and "education" each form a distinct component. "We see our role as a Â‘connector' between schoolage child care programs, educational programs, and youth development programs," says Gannett. "The goal is to integrate these three circles into a coherent whole."
The growth of the after-school field has created a need for well-trained caregivers. "There is a staffing crisis in the area of after-school care providers," says Gannett. Chronic turnover, low compensation, and lack of professional development cripple the quality, delivery, and outcomes of the programs offered. NIOST, in collaboration with the Academy for Educational Development Center for Youth Development and Policy Research, is engaged in a nine-month national strategic planning process for workforce development throughout the after-school field.
NIOST will continue to play a key role in the out-of-schooltime field. From its inception 25 years ago, NIOST has been a trendsetter in the area of after-school time and will continue to help shape the lives of children, parents, and communities for years to come.
To learn more about the work of NIOST, visit www.niost.org.