Saturday, June 4, 2016

Coalition promotes standards for afterschool programs

The ACT Now coalition's afterschool standards are here.
Afterschool programs offer opportunities to students before and after school and during summer breaks. In addition to a safe location and afternoon snack, these programs also offer structured enrichment and activities in the areas of the arts, STEM activities, homework help, and physical activity, all better alternatives than young children being home alone for hours each day.

Programs are usually offered through the community, by faith-based organizations, or county or municipal programs. Although afterschool programs are usually not offered by school districts themselves, some use district space. Beyond that, they share the goals of school districts to maximize student success and can contribute to positive outcomes for the district’s students.

“Research shows that afterschool programs help to produce better student outcomes like higher grades, keeping children safer, better school attendance, better behavior, and higher standardized test scores,” said Susan Stanton, who represents ACT Now, a statewide coalition that “works to ensure that young people in Illinois have access to quality, affordable afterschool and youth development programs.”

Stanton’s group believes that such programs provide activities essential for positive youth development often ruled out by the constraints of the school day, such as social and emotional learning, hands-on activities, or remediation for struggling students.

To help these programs to be as effective as possible, her organization has introduced a set of standards designed to “improve afterschool programming around the state… capture the practices that have been demonstrated, through research, to lead to quality programs and positive outcomes for children.”

The program standards have been organized into seven core areas, each to be evaluated based on quality indicators. The goal is to help K-12 educators to understand the key elements of high-quality programs and provide a common language for partnership. “These standards provide principals and superintendents a guide to reinforce and advance key priorities. Quality afterschool programs drive student achievement, and school leaders can incorporate quality afterschool programming into plans to improve academic outcomes.”

ACT Now also recommends the standards be part of the discussion in the community as a whole.

“Using the standards to improve programs is just the beginning,” Stanton said. “If we really want to maximize the full potential of the standards, we have to use them in our conversations and work with parents, funders, policymakers, K-12 educators, and institutes of higher education. When all parties are on the same page, it really helps to produce positive outcomes for youth.”

The seven core areas include the following:
  1. Indoor and Outdoor Environments
  2. Safety, Health, and Nutrition
  3. Administration
  4. Professional Development and Qualifications
  5. Family and Community Partnerships
  6. Youth Development, Programming, and Activities
  7. Partnerships with Schools
 “Schools should make sure they recognize the value added by afterschool programs and enter into these relationships with that in mind,” said Stanton. “There is sometimes this stigma around the value of afterschool programs that makes people think … of kids running around in a gym or playing with crayons in a cafeteria. In reality, afterschool programs do so much more. We created these standards to show all stakeholders the value added by quality afterschool programming, what quality programming looks like, and the true potential of these programs.”

The organization’s quality standards can be accessed here.