Strengthening Partnerships for Out-of-School Time

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 Strengthening Partnerships for Out-of-School Time

When the bell rings at the end of a school day, millions of children are left to their own devices while they wait for their families to return home at the end of the work day. Findings from a study conducted by the Afterschool Alliance, “America After 3PM,” show that 15.1 million children are unsupervised when the school day ends. The outof- school time hours represent a challenge to families and community members who are looking for safe places and engaging activities for children and youth. The out-of-school time hours also represent a genuine opportunity for municipal leaders — the opportunity to rally the entire community around the goals of keeping children and youth safe and engaged, while also helping to advance a number of other key city priorities.

Mayors, councilmembers and other municipal leaders increasingly recognize that out-of-school time programs can help meet multiple city goals — improving public safety and health, supporting the city’s education system, preparing the future workforce and supporting working families — all of which improve a city’s economic vitality and overall quality of life. Municipal leaders also understand that in addition to academic content, tomorrow’s citizens and workers will need a comprehensive set of “21st century skills” that emphasize problem solving, collaboration, use of technology and creative thinking, and that out-of-school time programs are uniquely suited to develop these skills.

City officials are well positioned to support the development of strong partnerships with key sectors of the community to increase the number and quality of out-of-school time programs. This guide highlights three key strategies that mayors and other city leaders can use to promote partnerships and build public will in support of out-of-school time programs:

  • Engage and involve a broad set of partners to take full advantage of all community resources;
  • Keep out-of-school time on the public agenda; and
  • Lead efforts by city, school and community leaders to establish a common set of outcomes and a shared vision for out-of-school time.

In each of these areas, the guide describes specific actions that municipal leaders can take in their communities and presents brief city profiles to illustrate how they have been used around the country. These strategies, when implemented effectively, build upon and reinforce each other in ways that can sustain momentum and lead to the development of a comprehensive out-of-school time system.

Engage and involve a broad set of partners. In every community, numerous stakeholders can contribute support for out-of-school time programs. Municipal leaders can play a pivotal role in bringing a wide range of partners together from inside and outside of government. Mayors, councilmembers and other municipal officials can encourage interagency collaborations, as well as engage partners from schools, businesses, community and faith-based organizations and institutions of higher learning. All of these stakeholders have an interest in supporting high-quality out-of-school time programs. In San Francisco, for example, the diverse groups that participate in the Afterschool for All Advisory Council have supported citywide initiatives by strengthening public financing strategies, enhancing program quality and addressing workforce concerns. Bringing a variety of stakeholders to the table to work collectively on out-ofschool time issues can have a tremendous impact and help move the city’s efforts forward.

Municipal leaders can also engage “unusual” partners that do not have an obvious connection with out-of-school time programs. In Tampa, Fla., the city has collaborated with Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union and WEDU (the local public television station) to add a financial literacy component to out-of-school time offerings throughout the community.

Keep out-of-school time on the public agenda. The commitment of the mayor, councilmembers and other municipal officials is a powerful tool in building public will and a sustained commitment to expand and improve out-of-school time services. Municipal leaders can:

  • Use their “bully pulpit” to highlight needs and increase public awareness;
  • Develop a coordinated outreach and communications plan;
  • Make use of high-profile events to sustain public attention; and
  • Regularly seek authentic community input to determine key public priorities.

In many communities, mayors have used a “state of the city” address to promote out-of-school time and encourage community support for citywide initiatives. Such events provide a venue for the mayor to build support for out-ofschool time programs by framing the issue as a top priority for the city before a large audience of community leaders.

Lead efforts to establish a common set of outcomes and a shared vision. Municipal leaders can work with the community to create a vision for out-of-school time efforts that aligns with other city, state and national priorities. In Jackson, Tenn., Mayor Jerry Gist launched the “Safe Neighborhoods/Safe Havens” campaign as a means of reducing crime, but it quickly led to discussion of how to increase access to out-of-school time programs. A mapping project that was part of the campaign found a high correlation between high-crime areas and neighborhoods with an inadequate supply of out-of-school time programs and activities.

City leaders can also emphasize the potential value of a coordinating entity to support citywide out-of-school time efforts. An intermediary organization can serve numerous functions, including:

  • Providing a neutral forum in which to convene key stakeholders;
  • Coordinating use of public and private community resources;
  • Promoting adoption of standards for program quality; and
  • Improving access to out-of-school time programs and services.

Finally, municipal leaders can help connect a citywide out-of-school time agenda to other community priorities and draw attention to the unique role that high-quality programs can play in achieving desired outcomes. Whether the focus is on raising the graduation rate, closing the achievement gap, developing 21st century skills, supporting working families, fighting crime or preventing childhood obesity, city officials can emphasize the potential contributions that out-of-school time programs can make as part of a broader city strategy and thereby build stronger coalitions that engage many different organizations and systems.

One of the greatest strengths of the three strategies highlighted in this guide lies in the interplay among them. Employed in combination, each strategy builds off of the others. For example, a city-led effort to develop a common set of desired outcomes provides an opportunity to bring partners (and resources) together, and those outcomes can be used to help build public will to sustain and expand out-of-school time initiatives.

When municipal leaders are actively engaged and looking for ways to support local efforts, each strategy becomes a building block in the development of a comprehensive and high-quality system of out-of-school time programs for all of the community’s children and youth. A citywide out-of-school time (OST) system is an overarching, communitylevel infrastructure that supports and helps sustain quality OST programming.1 By strengthening partnerships and building public will for a citywide OST system, municipal leaders can spearhead a community-wide effort to ensure that all children and youth have access to high-quality programs that develop the skills necessary for lifelong success. With both city and program budgets strained due to tough economic times, cities can reap immense benefits from partnerships that help maximize local out-of-school time resources.

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1. Cheryl Hayes, Christianne Lind, Jean Baldwin Grossman, et al. Investments in Building Citywide Out-of-School Time Systems: A Six-City Study (Washington, DC: Public/Private Ventures and The Finance Project, 2009).