A Place to Grow and Learn

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 A Place to Grow and Learn

Since 2003, The Wallace Foundation has supported a range of initiatives in five cities to develop and test new, coordinated approaches to making high-quality out-of-school time learning opportunities available to more children. While much remains to be learned, we believe a coordinated approach holds considerable promise for building and sustaining improvements in OST opportunities on a wide scale. In this paper, we describe the basis for our working hypothesis for expanding the quality and reach of out-of-school time learning opportunities. And we identify six “action elements” that can help other cities get started with a coordinated approach to OST improvement.


Every year, some 40 million American children and teenagers occupy their non-school hours with supervised activities that can reap them lifelong benefits - from perfecting a curve ball to memorizing a Shakespearean soliloquy or mastering multiplication tables.i The idea that learning and enrichment cannot and should not end with the school bell is hardly new. Organizations such as Boys and Girls Clubs date back some 150 years,iiand the out-of-school time learning movement grew rapidly in the early part of the 20th century with the Progressive Era, when settlement houses and children's clubs offered young people, often the offspring of immigrants, a place to learn language and culture and explore a variety of endeavors.iii

In recent years, after-school programs have attracted a new burst of interest and funding. More than 500 municipal leaders surveyed by the National League of Cities ranked after-school programs among the most pressing needs for children in their communities.iv More households have working mothers, with the resulting need for a safe, wholesome place for children after school,v and families are increasingly looking to after-school providers for academic help or to compensate for cutbacks in arts, sports or other enrichment activities at public schools.

To David Cicilline, mayor of Providence, RI and a leading national advocate for better out-of-school time (OST) programming, the benefits are clear.“There’s no greater gift than that kids have a safe, enriching, high-quality place to grow and learn all day,” he says. “I mean, there’s nothing better that you can do.”vi

Despite such enthusiastic endorsements, many questions remain about these programs: their costs, how to boost participation, the actual benefits for children, and what “quality programming” looks like. But their potential rewards are now widely seen as promising enough that OST has attracted significant new funding in recent years. The federal government is spending about $3.6 billion annually for out-of-school time learning, chiefly through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program and the Child Care and Development Fund. California has spent hundreds of millions of new dollars on OST as a result of the passage by voters of Proposition 49 in 2002. In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has overseen an increase in public out-of-school time programming funding from $47 million in fiscal 2006 to $109 million in fiscal 2008.

But with additional funding and attention has come the challenge of lifting the quality of these programs and expanding their availability. The fact is that as many as 20 million young people in the United States todayvii are not participating. For many of them, the time after school, on weekends and over vacations signals boredom and risk. Children in lower-income families in particular are far less likely than their more affluent peers to have access to, or participate in, out-of-school offerings.viii That means they miss out on activities that may cultivate talent, lift self-confidence, improve social skills, increase engagement with school, and decrease the likelihood of risky or self-destructive behavior.

Since 1990, The Wallace Foundation has supported a range of initiatives to help change that picture. Past efforts most often centered on expanding and enhancing out-of-school time opportunities in specific venues such as urban parks, libraries, museums, arts organizations and schools.ix Anxious to extend the reach and impact of this work, we adopted in 2003 what was then, and remains, a novel approach to creating better OST opportunities for more children. We selected five cities – New York City and Providence first; Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C. a couple of years later – to develop and test a citywide approach that brought to the table top leaders from government, schools and the OST provider community to plan well-coordinated ways of providing high-quality OST to more young people, especially those with the highest needs.


The Five Cities in Wallace’s Out-of-School Time Initiative

  • Boston – Partners for Student Success, administered by the not-for-profit Boston After School & Beyond organization, seeks to assist struggling public elementary school students with enrichment activities and academic help. http://pss.b​
  • Chicago – Chicago’s Department of Children & Youth Services is working with After School Matters, a private nonprofit organization that features teen apprenticeships, to increase access to OST services for high school students and track participation.
  • New York City – The city’s Out-of-School Time Initiative, administered by the Department of Youth and Community Development, aims to improve and expand OST opportunities in a range of school and other settings for children K-12.
  • Providence – The not-for-profit Providence After School Alliance (PASA) has created a network of neighborhood OST hubs, known as AfterZones, offering homework help, sports, arts and other programs to middle-school students.
  • Washington, D.C. – Project My Time, run by the not-for-profit DC Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp., offers underserved middle school students a variety of sports, arts and academic OST programs.


The five cities were selected by Wallace for reasons that included their previous track record in OST, the relative variety and strength of their OST providers, and their leaders’ demonstrated commitment to enhancing opportunities on a wide scale. These cities have begun to yield lessons we believe could guide other cities interested in getting started in expanding the quality and reach of their OST opportunities. The purpose of this Wallace Perspective is to discuss the basis for this citywide approach and to describe six interrelated “action elements” that we believe are central to its success and sustainability.

The six action elements are as follows:

  • Committed leadership – including top political, school, community and OST leaders, to secure funding and other resources and shape policies;
  • A public or private coordinating entity – to manage the development of plans, link disparate OST players, build citywide attention and support for OST, and ensure that plans and performance stay on track;
  • Multi-year planning – to set goals and priorities, develop ways to hold key players accountable for results and identify necessary resources;
  • Reliable information – to document the needs and wishes of parents and children, track participation and identify underserved neighborhoods and families;
  • Expanding participation – to reach more children and ensure that they attend often enough to benefit; and
  • A commitment to quality – because quality programs are likeliest to benefit children and therefore scarce OST funding should be directed to delivering high-quality programming.

These action elements make up the building blocks of our working hypothesis for improving OST opportunities for many more children. That hypothesis is as follows:

  1. Children and youth can gain learning and developmental benefits by frequent participation in high-quality programs; and
  2. The best route to providing such high-quality services to more children is to adopt a citywide, coordinated approach that is sustainable.

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