About Nina Agrawal

Nina Agrawal is Policy and Communications Coordinator at Every Hour Counts.

New Videos Show How Afterschool Fills Hours of Opportunity

Kids today spend 80 percent of their waking hours outside of school. In our field, we think of that time as “hours of opportunity”—hours in which kids can potentially be engaged in enrichment, team-building activities, meaningful adult mentorships, and more.

Yet for many kids, the hours outside of school are a missed opportunity. Only 15 percent of school-age children participate in after-school programs, with children from higher-income families participating at twice the rate of children in poverty.

Afterschool: Hours of OpportunityTwo new videos from The Wallace Foundation show how high-quality after-school programs can help fill gaps in opportunity. Featuring leaders of after-school programs and school districts around the country, Afterschool: Hours of Opportunity illustrates how programs help kids forge relationships with peers and educators, improve their behavior and academic performance, and motivate them to stay connected to school—a crucial ingredient for students who feel disengaged. These programs aren’t restricted to a specific time and place; they can happen before school, over the summer, or as part of an expanded learning day.

What can interested communities do to ensure they meet high standards of quality and offer access to the greatest number of students? A second video, Better Together: Boosting Afterschool by Building Citywide Systems, explains the key elements of building a citywide after-school system—a coordinated effort among service providers, public agencies, funders, and schools that helps stretch dollars, serve more youth, and improve quality. School and after-school data systems that can “talk” to one another, for example, or a mayor who champions the cause, can go a long way toward ensuring that programs meet the needs of a community and reach more students.

You can read about one mayor’s efforts to build an out-of-school time system in Madison, WI, in an earlier post.


Closing the Enrichment Gap: The Power of Data

What does a genuine 21st-century education system look like? Well, for starters, it closes academic achievement gaps, gaps in health and wellness, and enrichment gaps among all young people.

    Emmanuele Rosario, 6th grade, and Daniel Wu, 8th grade, demonstrate an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle that they built in the SeaPerch afterschool program.

Two Orlando middle-schoolers demonstrate an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle that they built in the SeaPerch afterschool program.

Sounds like a tall order, but for Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Paul Reville, nothing short of it will suffice to provide every student with the tools to succeed—to show that “‘all’ means all” when we talk about educating every one of our nation’s youth.

Reville, who formerly served as Massachusetts Secretary of Education, was the opening speaker at last week’s National Conference on Summer Learning in Orlando, FL (Nov. 11-13), and in his speech he hit on themes that not only resonated for the expanded-learning providers in the audience, but also captured some of the current zeitgeist in education reform. He made an eloquent case for individualized and differentiated learning, calling it a “logical fallacy” to argue that the same thing (i.e., content, instruction) for the same amount of time will work to bring every kid to the same level, when each kid starts out from a different place. And he encouraged those present to stop calling social-emotional skills “soft skills” and instead legitimize them alongside academic development with identifiable and measurable metrics.

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Summer Learning in Boston: Making it Fun, Making it Count

We’ve been hearing a lot this summer about retooled programs that are making learning fun for kids while combating the summer slide. Across the country, in cities from Jacksonville, Fla., to Oakland, CA, public school districts are partnering with nonprofit organizations to offer their students rich programming that combines rigorous academics with enrichment such as arts, outdoor exploration, and vocational experiences.

Last week CBASS had the chance to visit one such program. Thompson Island, located in Boston’s harbor and managed by the Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center, is home to a variety of outdoor adventure and experiential learning programs for youth—including one participant in Boston’s Summer Learning Project. A collaborative initiative between Boston Public Schools, the Boston Opportunity Agenda, and Boston After School and Beyond, the Summer Learning Project draws on the resources of schools and community organizations to offer k-12 students opportunities to increase their academic achievement as well as build valuable skills for school and career success.

Boston Summer Learning Project students and their counselors exploring Thompson Island.

Boston Summer Learning Project students and their counselors exploring Thompson Island.

What does summer learning look like in Boston? Well, for rising fourth-graders on Thompson Island, it includes a ferry ride, team building, and hands-on science learning. The day begins at 9 am, when school buses drop students off at the dock to be greeted by Boston Public Schools teachers and Outward Bound facilitators and ferried over to the island. As at all Summer Learning Project sites, students spend mornings buckling down on math and reading in classrooms, but in the afternoons they’re outdoors, working to balance as a group on a teeter-totter in the woods, or exploring the island with rangers from the National Park Service. The latter is particularly popular. With a diverse environment that includes bluffs, intertidal zones, and salt marshes, “every little ecosystem becomes a learning place,” says Arthur Pearson, president and CEO of Thompson Island Outward Bound.

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Carnegie or Competency?

One method measures learning by class or instructional time, the other requires demonstration of mastery in a specific skill or learning outcome. One is a traditional yardstick, the other comparatively new-fangled. Either way, the debate is growing about whether “seat time” (measured by the Carnegie Unit) or competency-based assessment is more suited for today’s 21st-century economy, in which young people need to have a broad range of knowledge and skills and be able to apply them to complex and novel situations to succeed.

In states like New Hampshire, Oregon, and Rhode Island, districts have formally begun to adopt competency-based systems in place of time-based ones. Such systems allow greater flexibility to gain credit for activities beyond the school day. On Monday, the American Youth Policy Forum hosted a webinar on one such system in Providence, RI. The Hub is a collaborative initiative between the Providence After School Alliance (PASA), Providence Public Schools, and community providers, in which high school students can earn school credit for “expanded learning opportunities” (ELOs)—rigorous learning experiences that take place outside of school.

Patrick Duhon, Director of Expanded Learning for Providence Public Schools, commented that schools desire an alignment between expanded learning programs and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). ELOs can offer this. Courses range in content, from mobile app development to photography to debate, and many of the community-based organizations offering them have already aligned their work with industry, college-readiness, and Common Core standards. Students demonstrate competency through a variety of means, including blog writing, online portfolios, digital badges, and end-of-term community presentations, which also help them meet the CCSS. Currently, students can receive only elective credit for these courses, but there have been conversations about offering credit for core content areas in the future. Continue reading

Summer Learning Offers Transformational Experiences

With summer break around the corner for many schools across the country, educators, advocates, and parents are resuming the debate over a longer school day and year. An article in the Boston Globe last week questioned whether increasing class time merits the considerable expense it would incur, and a series of readers debated the advantages and disadvantages of a longer school day and year in the New York Times’ Sunday Dialogue yesterday, responding to a proposal for a four-quarter year, reminiscing about forgotten notions of childhood, and weighing costs versus benefits. (The Time to Succeed Coalition is collecting additional reader responses on its blog.)

A point largely missing from the Globe’s analysis and the debate in the Times was that it isn’t just time that matters for learning, but the quality of the experience. Summer learning in particular has the potential to transform students’ lives. “Summer learning is not merely about adding days to the school calendar. It is about creating life-changing experiences that help students thrive,” wrote Chris Smith, executive director of Boston After School & Beyond, in a letter to the editor at the Globe. A high-school junior wrote to the New York Times that summer is when many older students pursue valuable internship opportunities. For many students lacking the initial skills, know-how or connections to participate in such internships, summer learning offers the chance to build and apply knowledge in real-world settings. In Boston, nonprofit organizations are currently partnering with Boston Public Schools in science centers, college campuses and workplaces to teach academic content in a new light, build background knowledge, and help students develop skills to succeed in college, careers and life.

While this kind of applied learning can benefit all students, as the high school student in the Times might agree, it is particularly essential for engaging those who have not succeeded in traditional classroom settings. “At a time of scarce resources,” Smith writes, “such investments can help prevent more costly interventions down the road.”

Build Your Fiscal Fitness: Insights from the Experts

Planning, planning, planning. It’s good advice in a lot of situations, but it’s especially important if you’re managing a non-profit organization on a limited budget.

Now, no one said it’s easy. But a new set of online tools from The Wallace Foundation and Fiscal Management Associates (FMA) does make it easier.

On Wednesday, CBASS and FMA hosted a webinar to introduce after-school organizations and their staff to these new tools, freely accessible via the site StrongNonprofits.org. “Build Your Fiscal Fitness: An Introduction to Strong Nonprofits” explored the concept of strategic financial management and offered participants tools and strategies to implement it.

The first thing out-of-school time (OST) organizations need to know about financial management is why it’s important. In 2007, The Wallace Foundation commissioned research on the management capacity of after-school organizations and, subsequently, a demonstration project in Chicago. From that work, said Wallace communications officer Nina Sonenberg, “It became clear that strengthening financial management is key to supporting afterschool program quality…If you can’t pay your electric bill and your lights go out, your program suffers.” It’s not a connection people make immediately or often, but understanding it is at the crux of your organization’s long-term health.

The second thing is to know what financial management is. Many of us think it means accounting, or being in compliance with funders, or making sure there is cash in the bank. While it is all of those things, financial management encompasses a much broader strategic function, allowing organizations to focus on effectively utilizing resources to achieve their mission. Hilda Polanco, founder and managing director of FMA, highlighted three essential practices:
1) Developing accurate, realistic budgets;
2) Monitoring the financial status of individual programs; and
3) Projecting and managing cash flow needs.

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A Trip to Providence: Learning from the AfterZone

What is music?

Depends on who you ask, but one group of Providence middle-school youth recently offered me this definition: “Music is the organization of sound and silence.”

Pretty existential stuff, right? That’s the level of learning that takes place in high-quality after-school programs like the Music Club I visited at Roger Williams Middle School. But to build those high-quality programs and make sure they serve as many youth as possible, you need a system in place.

PASA Director of Expanded Learning Patrick Duhon talks with teams from Jacksonville, FL and Flint, MI about building expanded learning systems. (Photo courtesy of PASA.)

Patrick Duhon of PASA talks with teams from Jacksonville, FL and Flint, MI about building expanded learning systems.

It was for that reason that teams from seven cities were visiting Providence last week. On May 7 and 8, the Providence After School Alliance (PASA) held its annual City Symposium, an opportunity for cities to learn about the expanded learning system PASA has built over the past decade.

PASA, a CBASS partner, developed with city partners a proven model called the AfterZone, a coordinated citywide system of after-school, in-school, and summer activities for middle school youth in schools and community locations throughout Providence. Students are recruited from Providence Public School District middle schools and enrolled in programs of their choosing for 10-week sessions during the school year. The organization was launched as a public-private venture by former mayor and now Congressman David Cicilline in 2004, and has since expanded to include a four-week summer program and a similar high school network called the Hub.

Though PASA is now a smooth operating machine, it wasn’t always that way. PASA had to build from the ground up, working with community members to create a shared vision, build partnerships in diverse sectors, join forces with the public school district and teachers, and develop evaluation and quality improvement systems.

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Creating Learning Systems to Serve Youth: What Are the Game-Changers?

“We are bound together
In our desire to see the world become
A place in which our children
Can grow free and strong.”

That’s the message students in the Berklee City Music High School Academy delivered at the opening of the 2013 PEAR Leadership Conference, co-hosted by Boston After School & Beyond in collaboration with the Institute of Contemporary Art on March 11. Performing James Taylor’s “Shed a Little Light,” the students demonstrated remarkable poise and confidence—tangible evidence of what Boston has accomplished over the past decade to strengthen students’ learning opportunities and development both in and out of school.

Their performance was a fitting beginning to the day-long conference, Learning, It’s Personal!, which focused on transitioning from innovative stand-alone programs to youth-serving systems that cut across the education, youth development, and mental health sectors. As Boston Beyond Executive Director Chris Smith pointed out, “No one entity, even if it’s as big as a school system, can do this work alone.” Conference participants ran the gamut, from public school officials and after-school providers, to policemen, counselors, and representatives of faith communities.GilChrisRahnDaphne-PEARConf2013 Continue reading

Seeing STEM Learning in Action

“When you’re riding a bicycle, what keeps you from falling off?”

That’s the question I was asked last week as I was standing outside a Rhode Island College classroom with two bicycle wheels (one large, one small) at my feet. I was participating in an activity led by “Everyday Explorers”—AmeriCorps members who teach STEM in after-school programs in Boston, New York, and Providence—as part of a two-day forum CBASS hosted on informal science education.

Florida Afterschool Network COO Joe Davis and the author test out principles of angular momentum.

Florida Afterschool Network COO Joe Davis and the author test out principles of angular momentum.

In case you’re wondering, the answer (mostly) is angular momentum. The Everyday Explorers demonstrated this principle as part of a broader lesson on Newton’s three laws. Activities included trying to change the direction of a spinning bicycle wheel and being spun around in a chair while holding bricks in outstretched arms—not exactly your typical science “lesson.”

This type of exercise was at the heart of the forum, held at the Rhode Island College STEM Center and Providence After School Alliance. The meeting was part of a national CBASS initiative, supported by the Noyce Foundation, to increase after-school staff members’ interest and confidence in teaching STEM and to engage city leaders in supporting STEM education after school. (Check out our FUSE resource guide for more information.)

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Raising the Bar on After-School Quality

What does it take to build a city-wide system of after-school programs that meet a high standard for effectiveness?building_citywide_systems_for_quality-coverjpeg

In its latest publication, Building Citywide Systems for Quality: A Guide and Case Studies for Afterschool Leaders, the Forum for Youth Investment (FYI) looks at the experiences of six cities, including Austin and New York, in building systems devoted to improving program quality.

On a webinar co-sponsored by The Wallace Foundation, National League of Cities, Forum for Youth Investment, and the Collaborative for Building After-School Systems (CBASS), presenters discussed common elements of these city-wide quality improvement systems, including:

1) A shared definition of quality. There should be agreement within and across organizations about what constitutes high quality and common language used to reflect that standard.

2) A focus on continuous improvement. In contrast to traditional accountability methods such as publicizing ratings and making funding contingent on performance, a continuous improvement approach sets a standard for high-quality performance, makes use of an assessment tool, and offers aligned supports for improvement such as planning, coaching and training.

3) Information system(s). The quality improvement system can only be effective if it leverages relevant data from assessments, participation tracking, and student outcomes.

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