Bring After-School Networks To Scale

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80,000 smiles: That’s how many youth were served last year by the city’s Out of School Time network.

Photo: Harlem RBI

The growth of out-of-school-time (OST) programs over the past two decades has been steady, but rarely well-coordinated. A growing number of cities and states are working now to combine funding streams, technical assistance and even marketing to bring successful practices to scale.

“It’s always a challenge to take things to scale at a state and city level,” says Debra McLaughlin, managing partner of The Kunnusta Group, which has been a consultant to such efforts in Massachusetts. “Both [in terms of] how funding is parsed out, and how people break down the work, there are an incredible number of silos that need to be bridged.”

The most extensive bridges are being built in California (which has the nation’s largest state-funded effort), Massachusetts, Maine and Georgia, says Robert Stonehill, chief program officer at Washington-based Learning Point Associates. As for cities, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles are among the furthest along, says Stonehill, former director of the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CLC) program.

Such efforts have to overcome several common challenges:

• Coordination is hindered by what McLaughlin terms “the false dichotomy between early care and education, and school-aged and older youth.” Programs tend to serve, and funding is often targeted to, those different age groups. “It’s the same kid who just gets older. It’s those things that plague the field,” she says.

• Because OST programs address a broad range of needs – from academic and cognitive to social and emotional – they often must deal with different government entities that focus on each of those needs. “That’s why it takes an outside force that scans all the pieces, figures out gaps, and [puts together] a strategic vision and action plan,” McLaughlin says.

• Efforts to coordinate and standardize services must take into account the different needs of different communities and the natural inclination for program autonomy. “You can’t push things down people’s throats. The communities have to want to do this,” says Joe Durlak, a professor at Loyola University in Chicago, who has studied after-school programming.

To see how a particular program fits in a network, Durlak notes, “You need to know who’s participating, what kind of programming, the developmental history of the participants … the kinds of activities they want to get involved in. … You need to know something about where the program is, the community context. Lastly, what kind of outcome are you interested in – academic achievement, cultural enrichment, arts and crafts, social development?

“Any effort that tries to take anything to scale needs to consider all this.”

Getting Started

The first thing that an OST network needs is a supporter with lots of money.

“Generally, what happens is that there is some type of outside force, a private funder like the Mott Foundation, that seeds these state after-school networks, where they require a match of state resources,” McLaughlin says.

Mott has the widest reach among foundations, funding after-school networks in 38 states.

The network coordinator, on the other hand, is a city or state agency. Among its tasks is coordinating funding from various streams: the CLC within the U.S. Department of Education and block grants to states from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF); private sources (Atlantic Philanthropies and the Wallace Foundation are also big players); and various parts of state and city budgets.

Increasingly, these government overseers are contracting with private intermediary groups to carry out much of the management, such as delivering funds to providers and monitoring their progress, and marketing the entire effort to the communities. The role of intermediaries in bringing together public and nonprofit agencies is helping to break down old barriers, Stonehill says. Their arrival “is something that’s kind of new and very exciting, in terms of a model for how you can move after-school to scale,” he says.

Growing to scale brings new challenges, however, such as finding both stable funding and qualified workers. “Where do you, in California, get 3,000 new directors of after-school programs, or thousands and thousands of new staff members?” Stonehill asks.

The American Youth Policy Forum, based in Washington, has been holding a series of discussions about building after-school capacity at the local, state and national levels. To find a summary of the sessions and reports about the issue, go to and search for “capacity.”

Following are examples of states and cities that are working to take OST programming to scale.