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Providence Shines in New After-School Study

Cities seeking role models on the after-school programming front need look no further than Providence, R.I. According to a new study, in a relatively short time, Providence has put the pieces together for a strong network of after-school initiatives targeting middle school students—traditionally, a challenging group to enroll.

"AfterZones: Creating a Citywide System to Support and Sustain High-Quality After-School Programs" explores the community-based options Providence began knitting together for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders in 2004. The city, which was awarded a grant from the Wallace Foundation to support after-school programming, has benefited, the report says, from strong after-school leadership, starting with Mayor David Cicilline on the AfterZones project.

Today, Providence is divided into three AfterZones, which are neighborhood-based, after-school campuses offering services in an array of sites—think libraries and recreation and art centers—rather than one center or school. In addition, the AfterZones initiative stands out for its focus on continuous improvement, author Lauren J. Kotloff of the nonprofit Public/Private Ventures writes.

The key to success in Providence? There are many, Kotloff writes, including:

  • The Providence After School Alliance (PASA), which leads the AfterZones intiative, has built a well-coordinated network among the 100 or so after-school providers involved in AfterZones. That includes "consistent data collection" and "effective use of a Web-based data-tracking tool" that allows PASA to keep a close eye on enrollment and attendance;
  • Effective leadership, from the mayor's office on down, including within PASA;
  • The use of multiple sites for programming, which opens doors to more and different types of enrichment for students; and
  • Sensitivity to what middle schoolers need. PASA conducted extensive early research to identify what works with this age group, learning, for instance, that middle schoolers greatly value autonomy and choice.

Still, it's not all a bed of roses. There are still challenges in following up on recommended improvements and getting local organizations to take on more management responsibilities, particularly in tough budget times. It is still too early to tell how AfterZones will fare in terms of their long-term sustainability, and, also very importantly, youth participation drops even in AfterZones when kids hit 8th grade, the report says.

Even so, the report is optimistic overall: "PASA has made enormous progress toward reaching its goal of making high-quality after-school programs accessible to low-income middle school students in a relatively short period of time," it says. And the AfterZones project "provides useful insights" to others looking to build and expand their own expanded learning programs.

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