Guest post by Jessica Werner. This is the second post in a series on the Every Hour Counts System-Building Institute.
On the plane coming back from a rich learning experience at the Every Hour Counts System-Building Institute in Oakland, I reflected on all of the things we have going right for youth programs in King County, and the areas we still have so much room to grow to create the ecosystem of supports all kids need to be successful in school and in life. Washington state was represented by four teams at the convening, all of which are working to foster a system of high-quality afterschool and summer programs in their region. The Institute provided the opportunity to learn from out-of-school time systems from around the country who have taken a leadership role in what trailblazer Hillary Salmons calls the “second shift” of education.
In Seattle—with investments from taxpayers through the Family and Education Levy and other public funds, private philanthropy (like the Raikes Foundation), generous individual donors, and a dedicated corporate philanthropy community—there are dozens of organizations working to enrich kids’ lives through the arts, academic supports, sports and recreation, college access, and more. There’s also a clear commitment to building high-quality programs. With help from organizations like School’s Out Washington and tools like the Youth Program Quality Assessment, programs across King County have a clear vision of what quality looks like, why it’s so important for the young people they serve, and how to pursue it.
This is a good start, but it’s still not enough to serve all of the kids that could greatly benefit from high-quality, engaging programs. In parts of King County—particularly south King County, and pockets of poverty sprinkled throughout the more rural parts of the region—there is simply not enough going on for kids during the 75 percent of their waking hours that they are not in school. In addition to increasing the quantity of high-quality programs in these areas, we need the structures to coordinate those programs—making sure that kids that need them most are able to participate. Many of the national exemplars we learned from in Oakland have invested in coordinated data systems to identify student needs and the students who are and are not served by programs. Commitment from community leaders and elected officials has also been essential in creating high-quality afterschool systems around the country.
Luckily, there are many in our region working to create more and better programs for young people, and perhaps in a few years, we could be looked to as a model. A new King County Youth Action Plan was recently completed and is going before County Council later in April. The Youth Action Plan will guide the county’s annual investment of more than $75 million in services and programs serving infants through young adults. Equally important, it aims to help all youth-serving organizations in our community work together to leverage our strengths and focus on measurable outcomes for kids.
I’m grateful to the Raikes Foundation for continuing to support the systems that are helping grow high-quality—and therefore high-impact—youth programs. Their support of our Washington teams at the conference (Seattle, King County, Tacoma and Spokane) has helped inspire the next level of systems building we need to make sure all kids have the opportunity to be successful.