In a mostly glowing initial review of a certificate program for after-school workers in New York City lies a dash of cold reality: the need for pathways of advancement for front-line staff who invest in their own education.
“College Opportunities for After-School Workers,” released in early September by The Center for After-School Excellence, examined the first year of a university-based certificate program in after-school studies that it offers in partnership with the City University of New York (CUNY). The report is the first part of a three-year “pipeline” evaluation by Policy Studies Associates, said Elizabeth Reisner, a principal at the firm.
The longer-term evaluation will assess how well certification contributes to after-school workers’ professional advancement, such as raises or promotions. It will also track the extent to which program participants – most of whom are high school graduates – go on to pursue associate’s or bachelor’s degrees.
The initiative’s “distinguishing feature” is that the credits students earn for a certificate can be applied to a college degree program, said Mark Levine, executive director of The Center for After-School Excellence and former executive director of Teach for America-New York.
The certificate program was launched last year by the center, an organization founded with support from The After-School Corp. (TASC) and Atlantic Philanthropies, to boost the professionalization of the after-school field by giving workers education and youth-development skills. The evaluation is also being used to make ongoing improvements in the certificate program, Levine said.
For instance, participants in the first year of the certificate program, launched last fall, said “employing more professors with after-school experience … would further improve the program.” Participants also wanted more courses on leadership in after-school programs, special education and ways to help youth with homework.
This year, four of the seven teachers are from the after-school field, and others received special training in the discipline, Levine said. He agreed that this would help instructors teach lessons that “speak directly” to what after-school workers experience every day and are not heavily focused on abstract “theories.” Guest speakers from the field will also be brought in for specific lessons.
Professors, in turn, said improved writing and study skills would help participants succeed and continue their education. “Writing is a major issue,” and “one of our biggest challenges,” Levine said.
Building knowledge of after-school workers – those at the front lines and in management – is getting increased attention across the country. The National Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore offers a graduate certificate program for after-school and summer program managers. Arcadia University, in Glenside, Pa., and Foundations, Inc., a nonprofit in Moorestown, N.J., also offer professional-development programs for after-school and other youth-development workers.
The Center for After-School Excellence is developing its own graduate-level program mirroring the undergraduate certificate initiative.
“This provides a career path,” said Reisner, although she acknowledged that the “big national question” is whether the after-school field has the resources or funded positions to reward workers who invest in education. (See “Climbing Career Ladders,” Youth Today, September 2008.) Reisner believes New York’s system has ample opportunities for workers to advance.
Community-based and government agencies recruited 94 participants to take part in the first year of classes at five CUNY campuses in 2007-08: Hostos Community College, Kingsborough Community College, LaGuardia Community College, Medgar Evers College and York College. Participants took three or four courses on topics such as foundations of education, English and writing, youth development and psychology, computers and technology, communication, and special education. Classes were held around workers’ schedules – in the mornings and on Saturdays.
Students take one or two courses per semester, each ranging from one to three credits. They receive approximately 30 to 45 hours of instruction per class, depending on the number of credits. It takes one year to earn the certificate.
Seventy-five participants – with an average of seven years of experience in the field – finished the program. The 2008 semester launched this month with twice as many participants, who are recruited from community-based and government agencies.
The students are told that completing the program does not guarantee raises or promotions.
The report found that nearly all students were “extremely satisfied” with it; 100 percent said they’d recommend it to a co-worker or friend.
The center’s certificate program costs about $2,000 for the CUNY tuition and $2,000 for support services, including application assistance, study and test-taking skills, and professional mentoring, Levine said. Students are asked to apply for as much tuition assistance as possible, but only have to pay a $25 fee, because outside funders pick up the rest of the costs.
Staff Quality is Major Need
As investments in after-school programs increase, improving staff quality will be a major need. The field needs to take a “very hard look at this” and “create some rewards” for workers who develop professionally, Levine said.
Looking at after school as a whole, he said new interim positions could be created that pay more and carry additional responsibilities – such as “senior group leaders” – to boost career advancement opportunities. He’d like to see front-line workers move up the ranks to become site coordinators and executive directors, which is “not very common at all” right now and would require more contributions from funders.
Levine added that replication of the certificate program in other jurisdictions is being considered by university and after-school leaders in Baltimore, Oakland, Calif., Chicago and New Mexico.
Contact: The Center for After-School Excellence (646) 943-8840; download the report at http://www.afterschoolexcellence.org/content/document/detail/2195.