AfterZones: Creating a Citywide System
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AfterZones: Creating a Citywide System
A major challenge confronting the OST field is how to design developmentally appropriate programs that can attract and retain middle school youth. At this age, youth are changing rapidly and their needs and desires are quite different from elementary school children. They want and need more autonomy than ever before and thus don’t want to attend programs that feel like childcare centers. Youth seek a richer variety of experiences in a greater number of settings to help them discover who they are and where their interests and talents lie. They need opportunities to envision their future through experiences that broaden their horizons. As part of their growing autonomy, youth want to make choices regarding what to do after school, and about whether they attend OST programs. Unless programming is interesting, developmentally appropriate and reasonably well run, middle schoolers are very likely to leave, especially because their parents will generally allow them to take care of themselves for at least a portion of their time spent outside of school.
One of the ways the AfterZone planners chose to appeal to youth’s desire for more autonomy and choice was to design each local AfterZone as a multisite neighborhood campus. In this campus model, after-school programs are offered not only in the school building, as many elementary school programs are, but in other locations in the community, such as museums, community centers, libraries and art centers—all of which constitute an integrated campus of after-school offerings. This multisite service delivery model has the potential to attract youth who do not want to stay in their school for afterschool activities and offers programming in unique and interesting settings. This is the type of diversity many middle class parents can offer their children, but poor families often struggle to provide. At the same time, the campus approach utilizes and introduces youth to existing neighborhood resources.
Despite these advantages, the model created certain logistical and management challenges. This chapter describes how the AfterZone neighborhood campus model works in practice and discusses, in detail, its benefits and drawbacks, including relationship-building with the “anchor” middle schools, transportation issues, and management challenges—particularly ones that arose during a transition to new management of the AfterZone programs.
The Neighborhood Campus Model
AfterZone programming begins immediately after school ends at 2:30 p.m. All youth attending AfterZone programs on a given day congregate with staff in the cafeteria or other large meeting area for a brief snack; attendance is taken at this time. Following their snack, most youth stay in the school for two hours of programming, but a portion of the youth (roughly one quarter) board shuttle buses that take them to a program at another location. At 5:15 p.m., all of the youth return to their “home” middle school, and those who need transportation board school buses that take them to a corner near their home.
Although off-site programming is an important part of the AfterZone ethos, during the study period most AfterZone programming was located in the seven participating middle schools. For example, during the 2009 winter session, between 13 and 18 different programs were offered at each of the three middle schools in the West End/South Side AfterZone. The same AfterZone offered a total of eight off-site programs.
Program providers, including individuals operating independently as well as staff from youth-serving organizations, use classrooms and other school space (e.g., the gym) to deliver their programs. Offsite programs are typically housed at facilities that have unique characteristics or special equipment, or attractions that cannot be transported to the school (e.g., a museum, boxing ring or marina). These facilities are located not only within the boundaries of the AfterZone but also in other parts of the city. In one or two AfterZones, youth can also enroll in programs offered in another middle school in their AfterZone. PASA estimates that, on average, roughly 25 percent of students sign up for off-site programs.
Off-site programs increase the choices available to youth and provide the freedom to explore new environments and experiences. One PASA staff member commented that even if participants choose not to go off site, simply knowing that they could—because program staff felt they were mature enough—is meaningful to an age group beginning to assert its independence. In addition, offering programs at multiple sites gives youth opportunities to travel outside of familiar neighborhoods: Off-site programs can be located anywhere in the city and are not limited to the boundaries of the immediate neighborhood or the AfterZone. More than one provider pointed out that low-income children in Providence (and elsewhere) have few opportunities to explore other parts of their city and, over time, can become reluctant to leave the familiarity of their known world. These off-site programs can help youth cross neighborhood boundaries and broaden their horizons.
Off-site programs offer other advantages. Programs like Save the Bay, in which youth explore the city’s Narragansett Bay, are taught by instructors who are experts in their fields and provide youth with a unique experience they might not otherwise have. An off-site program at a visual arts center teaches youth to experience and appreciate art in a unique setting, totally different from their school-day environments. They have the opportunity to observe artists working with different techniques and materials and can walk through the center’s sun-lit galleries to view the finished projects. Offering programs in outside facilities also helps youth appreciate the community resources available to them, and gives the off-site providers the opportunity to reach a new audience. An administrator from the public library explained that bringing youth to the library for literacy-based programs like Anime (Japanesestyle graphic art or comics) helps youth see the library as a fun place where they can explore and develop their interests.
Challenges of the Campus Model
The campus structure of the AfterZones—encompassing both school-based and non-school-based services— creates some programmatic challenges similar to those of school-based programs and others that are unique to a campus model. Like more traditional community-run school-based programs, for example, the local AfterZones need to develop and maintain good relationships with the middle schools, and a system of transportation is required to get youth home at the end of the day. However, with the campus model, youth also need to be transported to and from off-site activities. Further, the model presents additional management demands, such as how to oversee and support program providers in multiple locations, and how to integrate them into a cohesive network. In this section, we discuss the nature of the challenges and PASA’s response.
Maintaining Good Relationships With the Anchor Middle Schools
Within each local AfterZone, the middle schools anchor the program. Most AfterZone programming occurs in the school’s classrooms, gym and other spaces. In addition, the AfterZone’s major recruitment strategies rely on schools allowing providers and AfterZone staff to conduct outreach to students during the school day. For these reasons, maintaining open communication and good relationships with the schools is critical to the success of each local AfterZone.
By P/PV’s second visit in 2009, all of the principals of the anchor middle schools were supportive of the AfterZones. Some principals took longer to embrace the program than others, however, depending on how they viewed its benefits to students and their own experience hosting after-school programs.
Two staff positions help facilitate good programschool relationships: the AfterZone site coordinator and the school liaison. Each anchor school has a site coordinator who is based in the school. In addition to managing the day-to-day operations of the afterschool program (which includes making sure space is available for AfterZone’s programs and recruitment events), the site coordinators are charged with meeting with the school principal, assistant principal and teachers to build support for the program and quickly resolve problems as they arise.
Having a member of the school staff serve as a contact person for or liaison to AfterZone staff is another way to facilitate good relationships between the school and the initiative. During the study period, all but one of the seven middle schools assigned a staff member (typically a teacher or guidance counselor) to act as a liaison; four schools paid for this position out of their Title 1 funds. Not all liaisons were equally involved in supporting the after-school programs, but those who were highly involved played an important role. Three site coordinators described how their liaisons helped them secure space for activities, collect forms from teachers, help load youth onto buses and encourage students to enroll.
PASA wants to engage the schools more actively, however; for example, it wants school staff to participate as program providers, to help recruit youth and to work with AfterZone staff to integrate in-school and after-school learning. In 2008–09, PASA was successful in developing in-school/after-school ventures with two middle schools, whose teachers partnered with PASA to implement innovative programs—one in science, the other in social studies. The collaboration involved coordinating school-day lessons with afterschool enrichment and hands-on learning activities. By contrast, PASA’s efforts to enlist teachers as AfterZone providers for the school-year program did not produce more than “a few” teacher-providers. (Efforts to bring teachers into the AfterZones were more successful during the summer programs, for which PASA recruited 10 middle school teachers to partner with AfterZone program providers. Whether this experience with co-teaching will encourage more teachers to become active in the AfterZones during the academic year remains to be seen.)
Thus, as with all after-school programs located in school buildings, maintaining good relationships with the anchor middle schools is an important challenge to which PASA devotes considerable time and resources.
By all accounts, the largest challenge to a neighborhood campus model is the cost and complexity of transporting youth to and from off-site activities and from the anchor school to their homes. Because most of the students who attend Providence’s middle schools take a bus to school, they can only stay after school if they have transportation home. Early in the initiative, school district leaders agreed to allow AfterZones to use the district’s existing late buses to transport participants home the end of the day. This contribution has been crucial to meeting the city’s goal of making programs accessible to all of Providence’s middle school youth.
A bigger transportation challenge involves shuttling youth from the anchor middle school to the off-site programs and back again in time to take the late bus home. This challenge centers mainly around cost. While the late bus is paid for by the school district, the AfterZones—including PASA and the providers— must pay for the shuttle service. During the study period, with no single cost-efficient option, PASA had to piece together a patchwork of buses and vans from private companies and AfterZone partners. Although PASA worked with local AfterZones to reduce costs, the expense was substantial: One community-based organization (CBO) management agency estimated that renting a bus or van could cost as much as $300 a day.
Coordinating this system is complicated and requires careful planning and close communication between the AfterZone manager, who maps out the system for his or her AfterZone; the site coordinator, who makes sure youth get to where they need to go from each anchor school; and the off-site providers. The natural variation in travel time—particularly during rush hour—adds further challenges. If the shuttles are running late, staff at the site of origin have to notify staff at the destination site.
The data tracking tool PASA uses,
youthservices.net, plays an essential role in helping staff coordinate the shuttle bus system. At PASA’s request, CitySpan Technologies (the organization that designed the tool) developed a program that allows AfterZone staff at the anchor schools to generate a list of students, their off-site destinations and their buses. Although the system seemed to be working more efficiently during the second year of the study, program personnel agreed that coordinating the shuttle bus system posed major issues.
To understand the management challenges involved with implementing the AfterZone initiative, one must first grasp its basic management structure.
In the neighborhood campus model, each local AfterZone includes two or three middle schools—each of which hosts at least a dozen different programs—as well as a scattering of programs located in separate facilities around the community or, in some cases, across the city. While the school-based site coordinators manage daily operations in their schools, a mechanism is needed to integrate the various school-based and off-site programs into a cohesive network. The principal integration mechanism PASA put in place to was to assign one manager for each AfterZone.
The AfterZone manager is the only PASA staff member who is in constant contact with all of the players in the local AfterZone. The manager thus plays a vital role in facilitating communication flow, informing the appropriate people in one school or organization about any issues that emerge in another, and maintaining consistency across program sites.
The AfterZone manager is also the go-to person for the site coordinators of each middle school. Managers provide intensive daily guidance and support to the site coordinators on issues ranging from logistics (e.g., the bus schedule) to problems with individual students’ behavior. They also support providers in the off-site programs and are expected to check in with each one at least twice a month. In addition to supporting AfterZone staff, managers coordinate each session’s program schedule for the whole AfterZone, making sure there are no gaps or redundancies. They also develop the complex transportation plans for both the shuttle buses and the late bus.
Another important role the AfterZone managers play is to serve as a link between PASA’s senior managers and the local AfterZones. During the study period, for instance, the AfterZone managers met biweekly with their supervisor, PASA’s deputy director of operations, and generally touched base with him every day. AfterZone managers also provide PASA with information about how various components of the model are working, enabling PASA’s leaders to refine operations. They are, in essence, PASA’s eyes, ears and hands on the ground—an essential conduit of information between PASA and the local AfterZone network.
The Transition to CBO Management of the Middle School Programs
Once the local AfterZones were up and running, PASA wanted to concentrate more on its intermediary responsibilities for system-building, quality improvement and resource development, and less on managing daily operations at the local level. Equally important, PASA wanted to embed the AfterZones within organizations that provided direct services to the Providence community to create a stronger and more sustainable foundation for the initiative. Consequently, during the 2007–08 and 2008–09 school years, PASA contracted with four local CBOs, each with experience running programs for children, to serve as site management agencies.
Each agency was responsible for managing AfterZone operations at a single middle school.37 These responsibilities included hiring and supervising school site staff (i.e., the site coordinator and assistant staff) and managing all the logistical, coordination and supervisory tasks integral to daily program operations. By June 2009, four of the seven anchor middle schools were overseen by site management agencies; the remaining three were still managed by PASA.
In partnership with the site management agencies, PASA applied for and won three 21st CCLC grants. (PASA had “inherited” a fourth 21st CCLC grant from its original parent organization, the Education Partnership.) Each site management agency was responsible for managing one of the grants. The funds from the grant paid for the full-time site coordinator and assistant staff positions at the school. A portion of the grant went into the budget of the local AfterZone to be added to the pool reserved for program funds, which are awarded to community providers through the AfterZone grant process. Yet another portion of each grant came back to PASA to support its intermediary functions (such as the professional development agenda). And a roughly equal percentage was allocated to the site management agency to cover operating and administrative costs.
The transition to CBO management of the school programs was more difficult than expected. Because the school coordinators’ responsibilities were limited to the anchor school, the AfterZone manager had to oversee off-site programs while providing support and guidance to the site coordinator. Putting a site management agency in charge of the school and school staff added another agency to the already complex management structure (see Figure 2 on the following page).
During the first year of the transition, the overlapping hierarchies created by this new structure proved quite challenging for everyone involved. PASA and the site management agencies worked to redefine roles and responsibilities, especially around decisionmaking authority and control over the 21st CCLC budget and school site staff, but tensions persisted. These tensions were most acutely felt by the site coordinators. While they were employees of the site management agency, they were also answerable to the school principal and to PASA, and they worked most closely with the AfterZone manager, a PASA staff member. They felt frustrated by the conflicting demands that resulted from having to answer to too many “bosses.” Consequently, three of the four site coordinators had left their positions by the end of the school year.
By the second P/PV visit almost a year later, the situation had vastly improved. With a better understanding of the demands of the site coordinator position, PASA and the site management agencies were able to clarify lines of authority and better prepare the new site coordinators. The site coordinators interviewed during the second visit did not indicate that they experienced their job as a tangle of conflicting and competing demands, as had the coordinators interviewed during the previous year.
Despite these improvements, differences in expectations and priorities have continued to cause tension between PASA and the site management agencies. Broadly speaking, PASA believes strongly that the long-term financial viability of the AfterZones will depend on local organizations’ ownership of and investment in the citywide system. More specifically, PASA would like the CBOs to take on more responsibility for management tasks such as fundraising, tracking attendance and developing relationships with the school-day faculty and staff.
It is not clear, however, whether these agencies have the organizational capacity to do this. Recent and severe cuts in their own budgets, staff and services have made it difficult for the agencies to commit more resources to their AfterZone management role. Representatives from three of the CBOs said that they receive too little compensation from the 21st CCLC grant for the time and cost associated with their site management duties. The two representatives who were most critical of the arrangement questioned the nature of their involvement and whether their organization benefited from its role as a site management agency.
In contrast, the fourth site management agency, as well as a fifth CBO scheduled to become a site management agency in 2009–10, were more positive about their management role (or potential role) in the local AfterZone. Both agencies believed their participation supported their own organization’s goals (one agency is a community center that runs programs for youth and the other is a Boys and Girls Club). The director of the Boys and Girls Club was particularly enthusiastic about the chance for her organization to become a site management agency. She described her agency’s relationship with PASA, which has existed since the beginning of the initiative, in terms of a true partnership. She and her staff had worked closely with PASA to develop and colead some of the AfterZone summer programs. In addition, she had worked out an arrangement with PASA whereby youth attending the summer program would be given Club memberships. This enabled her to increase the number of programs the Club offered to middle school youth as well as the number of youth on the Club’s roster—both of which helped the Club continue to provide services despite recent cutbacks in its staff and programs.
Because PASA believes that CBO management of the local AfterZones is necessary for the long-term sustainability of the initiative, it plans to continue searching for funding and technical assistance providers to help strengthen the internal infrastructures of the agencies that were weakened in the economic downturn. PASA hopes that this type of support will enable the organizations to play the site management role effectively, while simultaneously strengthening their own internal capacity and longterm financial viability.
PASA and its partners developed a multisite service delivery model that appeals to middle school youth’s growing need for autonomy, variety and exploration. Participating youth have opportunities to not only stay at their own schools, but also to make choices and exercise independence by traveling to other venues that can expose them to new experiences and help them build new relationships with adults and other youth.
One major challenge involved in implementing the AfterZone campus model is the cost and logistical complexity of transporting youth to and from off-site programs. PASA and its partners have been able to cobble together enough buses and vans to do the job, and a redesign of their data tracking tool, youthservices.net, has helped AfterZone staff monitor which children need to board which buses. Although the shuttle system is expensive, PASA believes the benefits of providing youth with unique and enriching learning experiences in these community-based facilities outweigh the costs and hassle of providing transportation.
A second major challenge of the campus model is providing adequate operational oversight and management of programs offered in various locations. The campus approach requires a more complicated management structure than does the typical single-site after-school program. PASA successfully addressed this challenge by hiring a coordinator and support staff to oversee each school and an AfterZone manager to supervise each AfterZone, including the off-site providers. AfterZone managers play a crucial role in integrating the school-based and off-site programs and keeping information flowing to and from PASA and the field.
PASA’s decision to contract with CBOs to manage the school-based programs has not yet achieved its intended goals. In the last year of the study (2009), PASA staff (AfterZone managers) still needed to spend a great deal of their time supporting daily operations in the local middle schools, and many of the site management agencies expressed ambivalence about their role.
PASA has utilized multiple approaches to distinguish the AfterZones from programs for younger children. Among these are continually referring to the local AfterZone as a “campus” and allowing youth to travel away from the school grounds to attend programs in unique and interesting settings. These efforts have created a buzz about the AfterZones that piques the interest of middle school youth. The next chapter expands on this theme and presents the various strategies PASA has developed to recruit and retain youth.
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