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21st-Century Conference Focuses on Community Partnerships

Thousands of people, along with me, spent the past two days at the annual 21st Century Community Learning Center's Summer Institute held in Oxon Hill, Md., and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and J.C. Penny.

The 21st CCLC federal grant program has been one of the fastest-growing in history, currently budgeted at more than $1 billion—funding that supports programs that provide academically enriching experiences for children during out-of-school time. Formula grants are allocated to states, which then redistribute them via competitive awards to organizations, local education agencies, and schools to run their OST programs. As discussed in one session, there may be changes to this grant program in the future, because of recently proposed federal legislation.

This summer's attendees could select from more than 100 breakout sessions highlighting the role of 21st CCLC in high school and middle school reform, increased learning time, community schools, STEM learning, and school turnaround. Other broad topics included improving program quality, school alignment, and professional development. This year's theme addressed the importance of building community partnerships.

Patrick Duhon, director of expanded learning at the Providence After-School Alliance discussed in one breakout session how groups need to "stop working in silos" and come to the table with plans for how they will work together to meet shared goals for kids. The PASA model has been facilitated through strong support and partnerships in the city of Providence, R.I.

I also heard about how federal child-care grant funding and 21st CCLC funding can be combined to deliver services to some of the same populations. Beth Unverzagt, director of OregonASK, discussed how Oregon has built a statewide system for after-school after blending funding sources and partnerships with local organizations.

In another session, representatives from the National Center on Time & Learning and Citizen Schools focused on the importance of community organizations in implementing expanded learning time models in schools. Emily Bryan, a 6th grade teacher who works in an ELT school, Edwards Middle School in Massachusetts and the school's director of ELT, Stephanie Edmeade talked about their experiences—both the good and the bad—shifting from a traditional school model to an expanded learning time school by adding more than 300 hours to their yearlong schedule.

Lunchtime panels on both days included speakers from the federal Department of Education, national foundations, nonprofit organizations, and several intermediary organizations that work with out-of-school-time programs. They discussed the hurdles they face in tough budget times and how partnerships with outside organizations and funders are key to making programs run smoothly, particularly when they align over shared goals.

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