Fewer Kids, More Partners

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Out of the 180 agencies that belong to the Greater New Orleans After School Partnership, only 20 are running after-school programs a year after the hurricanes.

Most of the others don’t have staff, youth to serve or facilities to carry out programs, says partnership director Gina Warner.

The after-school system is in a state of disorder, largely because the school system is as well – which simultaneously provides the partnership members with some opportunities they’ve never had.

The education system in New Orleans was, by all accounts, a joke before the storm. New Orleans Public Schools (NOPS) was universally believed to be bloated and rife with corruption. A consulting firm found that checks were being auto-mailed to hundreds of employees who were dead or no longer employed.

As for NOPS’ after-school offerings, Warner’s group barely bothered with them. “The schools ran very poor programs and charged a good amount of money to parents,” she says.

Now, the city’s schools will handle far fewer kids with far fewer schools than before, under three operating systems: approximately 13 charter schools, 17 recovery school districts operated by the state and five schools run by NOPS.

The lack of a central governing authority leaves some in youth work uneasy, as they fear some students will have trouble enrolling. But Warner sees the removal of the old guard as a chance for the after-school industry to forge alliances with the new school leadership.

While the after-school partnership includes household names such as the local Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCAs, it is composed mostly of small neighborhood programs operated by churches. “With neighborhood programs, in many cases the church is gone, a lot of the congregation is still gone,” Warner says. And so far, the YMCA has set up only one after-school program, at its James Singleton Public Charter School.

At the same time, Warner says, most of the schools haven’t implemented after-school programs and have few resources to do so. So they’re amenable to working with the community-based programs to establish services in schools – precisely the trend that’s been growing around the country for years, despite resistance from some school administrators.

“With all the emotional issues down here, and the crime, it’s all the more reason that kids need to be safe and secure after school,” Warner says. “And the actual school is the best place right now, since we’ve lost so many other buildings.”

“We’ve probably paired up six of our [members] with schools,” Warner says. “We’re also helping two schools design their own after-school programs.”

With a decentralized school system, leaders at each school can forge community partnerships as they see fit, with little concern about getting approval from higher up.

But that same system brings new challenges. “With charter schools, you always have to go to each one,” Warner says. “Now with each non-charter that’s opening, we have to go door to door as well.”

Resources remain a huge hurdle. “The problem for everyone is money,” Warner says. “There has been nothing put into after-school.”