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Calling for Innovator Award Nominations

Let's put aside talk of budget cuts and programming struggles today and instead focus on some positive news in the out-of-school-time realm.

Nominations are currently being taken for the MetLife Foundation and Afterschool Alliance's 4th annual MetLife Afterschool Innovator awards, the only national awards exclusively for programs that operate during after-school hours.

The innovator awards honor after-school programs that have developed and executed commendable programming that addresses at least one of this year's focus areas: providing opportunities for service learning for middle school students; aligning after school with the middle school day; addressing middle school bullying; and supporting literacy for middle schoolers.

Five winners will receive grants of $10,000 each from the MetLife Foundation to use to enhance their programs, up from $5,000 last year. (MetLife also underwrites Education Week's sister publication, Teacher.)

"We wanted to focus the awards specifically on middle school students [this year] because we see the middle school years as a crucial juncture in young people's lives during which they form behaviors that will go on to greatly affect their futures," said Chris D'Agostino, a research associate with the Afterschool Alliance who is working on the awards committee.

Program staff members or outside individuals can nominate programs through an online nomination form that asks questions regarding the program's offerings, population served, assessments, and plans for future curricula. Winners—announced this summer—and other commendable applicants will be featured in the Afterschool Alliance's 2011 issue briefs on the aforementioned topics. These briefs will be published and disseminated at conferences through the end of the year and then compiled into an overall document used to educate programs and after-school leaders on best practices and strategies in these programming areas.

D'Agostino said the application and evaluation process for the awards will allow "lesser known, yet highly effective after-school programs" to be contenders and to shine.

"The best nominations will highlight unique aspects of the middle school after-school program, while also showing important program outcomes that have led to increased benefits for the children being served and surrounding community," D'Agnostino said.

Well over 300 nominations are expected this year.

Also on the grant-award front, after-school and summer learning program provider BELL, Building Educated Leaders for Life, recently won a $5 million grant from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation's private-public True North Fund. The three-year Social Innovation Fund grant will be used to expand BELL's summer learning programs by roughly 17 percent to 18,500-21,500 students at program sites throughout the East Coast. BELL's after-school and summer programs currently serve 14,000 at-risk students from low-income families.

Nine other organizations (out of 225 applicants) were grant recipients in addition to BELL. These programs, which include teen-pregnancy prevention and literacy programs, also serve disadvantaged youths. The True North Fund, which combines private resources from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and other donors, as well as public funding from the federal Social Innovation Fund , will spend roughly $42 million in grants in the next few years.

Additionally, a few months ago, I mentioned some upcoming after-school and OST conferences. I did not include the BOOST (Best of Out-of-School Time) Collaborative Conference, "Refining Leadership in Out-of-School Time" at the end of this month. The conference will take place from April 27 through April 30 at the Palm Springs Convention Center in Palm Springs, Calif., with more than 125 exhibitors, as well as many workshops and themed sessions hosted by leaders in after school and OST.

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