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The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

A Week to Appreciate Afterschool Professionals – April 24-28

A Week to Appreciate Afterschool Professionals – April 24-28


SocialGraphic EmpoweringIt’s Afterschool Professionals Appreciation Week! Perhaps we should back up - what is an Afterschool Professional? Maybe you call them staff, teachers, or care providers. There are many names for the same thing – someone trained to work with youth during out-of-school time.

This week is a chance to recognize the “professional” in Afterschool Professionals. We know that afterschool matters for kids, and that afterschool professionals impact the quality of that programming. Some fun facts:

  • Participation in afterschool programs consistently increased from 2004 to 2014, rising by nearly 2 million children from 2009 to 2014 alone. In 2014, 10.2 million children (18%) participated in an afterschool program.
  • Regular participation in afterschool programs has been shown to help narrow the achievement gap between high- and low-income students in math, improve academic and behavioral outcomes, and reduce school absences.
  • The Afterschool field has defined what it takes to provide quality afterschool programming. The National AfterSchool Association (NAA) has adopted a set of Core Knowledge and Competencies, and at least 24 states have their own versions.
  • Afterschool Professionals are well-educated. A recent NAA survey of its members found that 34% of staff surveyed reported having a Masters or Doctorate degree.

And some less fun facts:

  • Less than half of afterschool professionals surveyed have access to health insurance and 39% do not have any benefits (such as insurance, paid vacation, sick leave, retirement savings).
  • The field suffers from high turnover (with some estimates up to 40% annually), with pay cited as the number one reason people leave their job.

So how can you show your appreciation? The actions of this week should be twofold. First, express your individual appreciation for those in your community who work with youth – maybe your own children - afterschool. Give them a card with words of heartfelt thanks, bake them some muffins, say thanks. But don’t stop there. Second, take some time to appreciate the incredible contribution of afterschool professionals in improving youth academic, behavioral, and social emotional outcomes. Given the proposed budget cuts of the current administration, it seems an opportune time to also suggest you contact your representatives and let them know how much you support afterschool professionals (the Afterschool Alliance also has information to guide you).

This week is a chance to both thank Afterschool Professionals for keeping our kids safe and happy, and to think bigger about what it takes to be an afterschool professional and the huge positive impact they have on the lives of youth. So, to all the Afterschool Professionals, thank you!

Betsy Starr, M.Ed. is a research associate at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) at the Wellesley Centers for Women. Her work focuses on professional development and system-building for the field of afterschool and youth development.

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Partnerships are Critical to Student Success

NIOSTpartnershipskidsPartnerships are Critical to Student Success

The days are getting shorter, the air feels crisper here in the Northeast, and children everywhere are heading back to school -- a welcome return to routine and to the exciting possibilities of a new year, but still it’s hard to let go of summer. Fresh and sweet in our minds here at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) (and hopefully in many of your minds, too) are the unique joys of summer -- yes, popsicles and bonus hours of daylight, but also the special learning opportunities that summer brings.

Summer learning programs offer the chance to develop interests and skills, focus on social and emotional learning, and engage youth in positive ways. Summer learning programs can also offer an important strategy in closing the achievement gap between low-income children and their middle- and upper-class peers.

Luckily, these kinds of experiences do not need to be packed away with our shorts and flip flops. More and more, out-of-school time (OST) programs are partnering with schools to create amazing, year-round learning experiences for children and youth. At NIOST, we believe collaborations like these are a critical ingredient to student success, and we applaud the work they are doing to engage with children and youth throughout the year.

The U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program, the only federal funding stream dedicated to afterschool, actually requires grantees to work in collaboration with schools. In practice, partnering with schools may simply mean that afterschool programs communicate student goals and learning needs with school staff, which is a great start.

Some programs, though, are going further -- modeling how a true partnership can produce positive youth outcomes. Through my work with the US Department of Education, I have had the pleasure of seeing such programs in action. For example, Rhode Island’s 21st CCLC grant supports an innovative Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO) Initiative at Central Falls High School that allows students, driven by their interests, to earn academic credit in alternative ways. Students work closely with teachers and community members who provide hands-on learning either after school or in the summer. The students then create rigorous final products and do presentations to demonstrate their learning. Early data indicate that the approach is improving graduation rates.

NIOSTpartnershipsquoteBoston After School & Beyond (BASB) is a public-private collaboration that advances student learning through a coordinated approach to school and community partnerships. Through initiatives such as Advancing Quality Partnerships (AQP) and the Summer Learning Project, BASB empowers organizations that serve Boston Public Schools (BPS) students after school and in the summer to provide high-quality social and emotional learning opportunities and to communicate with schools about the skills students develop at their programs. NIOST has helped BASB investigate the nature and functioning of such relationships. Schools, community partners, youth, and families are finding value in these intentional partnerships.

One of the major strengths of partnerships like these is that they are able to leverage family, school, and community resources to chip away at nonacademic barriers to learning and healthy development. Schools are ill-equipped to assume this responsibility alone, and teachers often lack sufficient resources to address the various needs of their students, such as learning disabilities, mental health issues, family instability, negative peer influences, and poverty. The flexibility of the OST field, backed by its expertise in positive youth development, enrichment, and social and emotional learning, can help to fill these gaps in our school system by complementing and supporting traditional education. So, rather than expecting schools and teachers to do this work alone, collaborative partnerships with OST programs can be integral building blocks on the road to educational equity.

As summer comes to a close and school-year routines settle in, remember that not every part of summer will leave us. Thanks to the creative partnerships between schools and OST programs, many of our nation’s youth (and the staff at NIOST) are looking forward to the continuation of collaborative, year-round learning opportunities.

Betsy Starr, M.Ed.is a research associate at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) at the Wellesley Centers for Women. Her work focuses on professional development and system-building for the field of afterschool and youth development.

 

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