A Place to Grow and Learn

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 A Place to Grow and Learn

The six action elements described in this paper are means to much larger ends. The first is sustainability – ensuring that the efforts to expand and improve OST opportunities are adequately funded and survive changes in city leadership. The second and paramount objective is to have more children realize the benefits of participation in high-quality OST programs that are responsive to their needs and wishes. This ultimate goal remains elusive for millions of children.

The five cities in our initiative have made real progress in putting in place the action elements of a more coordinated approach. But if we have learned anything in our work to date, it is that a coordinated approach takes time to plan and establish. It takes the sustained commitment of leaders to shape policies and ensure adequate resources. It requires evidence that children are, in fact, participating and benefiting – evidence that the new management information systems could eventually provide. In the long run, it will require support from the general public and a commitment from government, public schools, business and other private leaders, and from OST organizations them¬selves, to work cooperatively.

For Harold Richman, founding director of Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago and a key adviser to the Chicago initiative, “sustainability is the elephant in the room.” Few cities have developed what he calls “a dedicated funding stream” for high-quality out-of-school time ventures. “Unless we can get one,” he says, “a lot of what we are trying to accomplish gets put in jeopardy.”

Our innovation sites are trying to address these needs in a number of ways.

In Providence, OST organizers are attempting to sustain citywide coordination by, among other things, establishing a high-level “alignment work group” that represents the key OST players – including city hall, the police department, the schools and OST providers – and that meets regularly. The purpose is to familiarize group members with one another’s projects and then to explore ways to align them. In Chicago, the process of building a new citywide OST management information system has been a unifying enterprise for city agencies and community-based organizations – fostering a sense of “electronic belonging” to a new system.

Building public support for the value of OST is another key to sustainability. New York City’s business plan contains a detailed communications strategy for reaching groups ranging from policymakers to parents. When the city invited business leaders to attend an “OST Update Breakfast” with Mayor Bloomberg last year, one of the messages was that high quality OST programs can help keep employees focused and productive by reassuring them that their children are engaged in wholesome, well-supervised activities after school.

Sustaining high-quality OST services on a scale to meet the need will take stable and, most likely, increased financial support. Whether it will come, and from where, are open questions. New York City has allocated more local tax dollars for OST. Others, like Providence, are working with OST organizations to help them gain access to available state and federal funding sources such as child care vouchers and 21st Century Community Learning Center grants. In general, building and maintaining adequate public and private funding streams will likely remain a struggle when OST is arrayed against other competing public spending priorities.

Philanthropies and the private sector are the other possible source of funding. Washington, D.C., for example, has raised nearly $4 million in non-government support for its OST initiative. But to date, private funders have generally been more inclined to support individual OST programs than citywide improvement efforts such as the development of information systems, especially because such approaches are still relatively new.

Still, the ultimate key to achieving sustainability may rest with how well OST programs convince the public and various funders that they are meeting the needs of parents and the community and are providing children with places to learn and grow after the school bell rings.

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