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Equipping Your After School Program for Success

Written by Andrea Simmons

After school programs are an integral part of the extended education system, keeping millions of kids safe, active, entertained, and providing places for continuous learning in the critical hours between 3pm and 6pm. This window is one of the highest times for youth crime and is when the majority of vandalism and drug incidents happen amongst teens.

In the past 12 years, participation in structured after school programs has increased by nearly 60 percent with more than 4 million additional children attending programs. However, there is still a huge group of kids without supervision in the critical after school timeframe. There are more than 11 million kids who spend time alone, of which about 1 in 4 are from the volatile middle-school age group. Demand for after school programs is rising steadily with greater numbers of parents looking for quality programs with availability in their region.

After school programs can be run by a variety of different organizations and they can vastly vary in what they offer. Some programs focus primarily on academic activities with a strong emphasis on homework help and academic advancement. While others look to infuse more movement and exercise by offering sports, dance, and martial arts programs.

The most popular programs offer a mix of activities that include opportunities for reading and writing, help with homework and some access to physical activity.

With all this variety, how do you ensure that you’re equipping your afterschool program for success?

Choosing the right location

One of the top motivations for choosing an after school program is the convenience of its location. Can students easily get from school to the location in a safe way? Can parents easily get to the venue for pick-up?

Parents often gravitate to programs that are in or near schools, as well as those that offer safe and reliable transportation options if the venue is too far for the child to walk independently. Today, nearly 73% of programs are hosted in public school buildings. For the remaining 27%, the venues are mixed, including community centers and public libraries as the next most popular options.  

Offering the right mix of activities

The second most important factor in terms of choice is the mix of activities. Parents today are looking for programs that provide a wide range of activities and enriching learning opportunities for their kids. The top requested activities according to the Afterschool Alliance are opportunities for physical activity, homework assistance, opportunities for reading or writing practice, STEM learning opportunities and activities related to healthy food choice, gardening or preparation.

Building successful partnerships

Often the best programs are those that are created out of partnership with community organizations or schools. Groups like the YMCA, the Boys & Girls Club, and local school clubs offer programs both in-school and at local community centers. By building a program with a community partner, it allows for greater access to facilities, better sharing of resources and expertise and helps to broaden programming, as it can be developed once and shared across many groups. This helps immensely when it comes to programs related to STEM, as often materials are expensive to obtain and there is a certain expertise required to build quality programming.

These community partnerships also open up new opportunities for funding. Most of the organizations you would partner with for your program have non-profit or 501(c)3 status, which makes them eligible for different funding sources from government agencies, departments, and private foundations. In part two of this article, we will look at some creative ways to help fund your programs for greater success.

Involving families and community members

The best way to equip your program for success is by involving your parents and local community members. The most successful programs work to build and establish relationships with parents to provide transparency about activities and establish dialogue about homework challenges, as well as any feedback on reading and writing activities.

Great programs also work to connect with teachers from local schools. More and more, there is a strong connection between successful after school programs and the schools of the students they serve. By building this bridge, programs are able to provide continuity of content, as well as tools and technology. By connecting early in the school year, programs can understand which resources are being used in the classroom and can look if and how these tools can be used for homework help.

At Learning Bird, we are seeing more and more collaboration between school administrators, teachers, parents and after school program leaders in building this continuity of tools and techniques to better bridge home and school.

Stay tuned for the second article in this series where we’ll look at how you can uncover new sources of grant funding for your after school programs.

About the author

Andrea Simmons

Andrea has a lifelong love of learning and has worked in the marketing and communications field for over 20 years, helping organizations share stories and build compelling content. When not writing, Andrea can often be found weeding her garden, baking something decadent, or building new worlds out of Lego.

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