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The Big Apple's Approach to After-School

Under the leadership of city officials and local organizations, New York City implemented an Out-of-School Time initiative in 2005 that put significant city dollars into funding expanded learning and after-school programs, believing the programs would improve the performance of youth in the city's underperforming schools.

These goals were supported by results seen in previous years by some existing, well-established after-school providers who helped steer the development of after-school program expansion in New York, with the increased city money and support. Nearly doubling in size in the past six years, the initiative remains the largest city funded after-school initiative in the country.

In the last six years, the City of New York has spent more than $100 million annually on after-school programs for elementary through high school students. This is over half the public funding used to support the city's after-school programs, with additional support from federal and city sources. The number of youths served in after-school programs citywide, most of whom come from underprivileged backgrounds, jumped from 10,000 in 1998 to 140,000 in 2008.

This year, the OST-funded programs, directed by the city's Department of Youth and Community Development, DYCD, will alone support 485 programs citywide that serve 58,000 youths.

"I think what sets New York apart is that quality and sustainability went hand-in-hand when we developed systems," said Lucy Friedman, director of The After-School Corporation, TASC, the first city nonprofit to develop a K-12 after-school system model, which was influential in crafting the framework many after-school providers used in programs that emerged post-city program expansion.

"We [in New York] have set a high standard for what after-school should offer: a balance of intellectual, creative and healthy development that all parents want for their kids, at a cost that government could sustain," she added.

A three-year study of the city's publicly funded programs performed by Policy Study Associates, Inc. found that low staff-to-student ratios, varied responsibilities of program staff, and creative site programming were consistent traits of New York's programs. Such components had positive impacts on student academics, behavior, and socialization.

A number of these features, such as an emphasis on students' regular, daily attendance, 1:10 staff-to-student ratios, staff development, and new and enriching experiences for youths, were part of TASC and the Partnership for After School Education's, PASE, existing after-school models for programs. These leaders also emphasized that new programs emerging in the city should use a cost model that would support large-scale programs, necessary to meet the needs of students in the largest school district in the country.

While new programs that emerged have been allowed to develop their own curriculum, these staples are still found at many of the programs in the city.

Janet Kelley, a national after-school consultant who has worked extensively with New York after-school programs, said the city's varied program providers have allowed after-school programs the freedom to develop creative curricula. Going overboard in structure for after-school programs is not a good idea, she said, as after-school programs should provide freedom for children to explore their interests.

But, given that there are many different community based after-school providers who receive various funding streams, one of the key recommendations of the three-year study on city programs was that New York work on an accountability system that would allow the city to have a better handle on how their programs were operating.

The city has ramped up efforts with a data-driven monitoring system to improve this accountability and consistency. Profiled in the Rand Corporation and Wallace Foundation's "Hours of Opportunity: Profiles of Five Cities Improving After-School Programs Through a Systems Approach," the city's monitoring system tracks the attendance, resources, and some performance measures that help drive programming decisions for all programs receiving city funds.

It is unclear with this year's city budget, finalized in June, will have cuts for these programs, though as mentioned earlier, there will be reductions in state funding that will have impacts on the city. Still, after-school and city leaders are working to improve programming efforts at after-school programs throughout New York.They are putting particular emphasis on STEM, globalized learning, and, at some pilot sites, an expanded learning model developed by TASC that strives to provide more continuum and alignment between the school day and the three hours "after" school.

Later in another blog, I will look at the ins and outs of what makes DYCD tick in a Q&A with Jeanne Mullgrav, commissioner of the department, and some of the challenges in being an administrator for city, state, and federal funds that support programs serving youth and families.

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