From Idea to Action: Reflections from Denver Afterschool Alliance

Guest post by Katherine Plog Martinez and Maxine Quintana. This is the second post in a series on our Third Annual Institute for Building Expanded-Learning Systems. Read part 1 here.

We’ve all been to the conferences where you meet back up with your group between sessions and the ask of “How were the sessions?” are met with – “Meh.” “Well, I guess I have one new idea.” “I’m hoping the next one’s better.” In other words – a bust.

If you think about a conference like that and then imagine the polar opposite you would have the Every Hour Counts System-Building Institute.

Between each session, the Denver team couldn’t stop sharing our ideas, aligning our learning, and beginning to think about how we can adjust and grow as a result of what we learned. We excitedly discussed data dashboards. We wondered about youth employment and its connections to after-school programming (both for students, and in building our work force of youth development professionals). We talked through ideas for programming and ideas for supporting programs. We talked deeply about equity and how to model it in all we do.


Participants discussing reflections during a breakout session.

When we began talking about formalizing our system-building work in Denver more than five years ago we felt as though we were on an island. What exactly is after-school system building work? We’ve tried a lot of things and collaborated, but how do we turn that in to a system? Who is out there to learn from?

We’ve been lucky to be part of the Next Generation After-School System-Building learning community supported by The Wallace Foundation and have grown and adapted in our work because of our peer cities. We feel proud and excited of what we’ve been able to accomplish. And even with that level of pride in where we currently stand, we recognized that by joining the Every Hour Counts Learning Community and attending the System- Building Institute we’d have access to and be able to learn alongside even more national leaders in this work.


The Every Hour Counts National Learning Community came together for their inaugural meeting during the Institute to develop their goals. Pictured: David McGhee of The Skillman Foundation, introducing the Detroit expanded-learning system.

And there isn’t a better group of leaders to learn from. There’s no ego in the after-school field. It turns out system-building isn’t an island at all, it’s a deep, strong, rich community where we all know what matters most – our kids. And whether those kids live in Denver, or Seattle, or New Orleans, or Dallas, we are all willing to share ideas, to bounce things off each other, and to add to the collective pool of knowledge.

So we dipped in and we hope added to that pool of knowledge when we joined our colleagues from across the county in Chicago, and we came home ready to act. Every staff team meeting we’ve had since we’ve returned someone has referenced something they heard from another city at the Every Hour Counts Institute. We know our work will be stronger this year as a result of our time with peer cities and we’re excited to come back next year to share what we’ve put into action as a result.


Maxine Quintana and Katherine Plog Martinez serve as core staff to the Denver Afterschool Alliance. The Denver Afterschool Alliance supports afterschool programs by providing them with tools and resources to help them improve quality and measure outcomes. By convening many voices, we work collaboratively to address the need for high quality afterschool programs because we know Denver thrives when our kids succeed.



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