Dianne Kangisser, first executive director of the Robert Bowne Foundation (RBF), believed that afterschool programs should be linked in a network both as a way to promote program improvement as well as to legitimize the field. She took several actions that set the stage for collaboration and networking. First, she invited practitioners she considered exemplars to work alongside professional development providers in RBF’s Professional Development Group, established in 1988. Several years later, she funded Michelle Cahill, then at the Youth Development Institute of the Fund for the City of New York, to develop a concept paper for a professional support organization to serve afterschool programs. Following up on this in 1994, Kangisser made the initial grant to support the founding of the Partnership for After School Education (PASE). A short time later in 1996, RBF funded both the Literacy Assistance Center (LAC) and the Institute for Literacy Studies at Lehman College (ILS) to work together to initiate the New York Youth Education Support Network (NYYESN).
RBF expected networking to be an integral part of programs it funded, such as PASE’s Intervisitation Peer Mentoring program (1997) and ILS’ Youth Practitioners Institute (also 1997). In a similar fashion, the Foundation instituted networking as a learning strategy within RBF initiatives, including Re-Imagining Afterschool (1998), Participatory Evaluation Institutes (2001), Julia Palmer Library Development Initiative (2003), and the Afterschool Matters Initiative (2003).
In 2006, Program Officer Anne Lawrence, in collaboration with Professional Development Group colleague Claudia Ullman from the Institute for Literacy Studies at Lehman College, established Networking Meetings as a separate program. In the second year, Lawrence invited Suzanne Marten of the Center for Educational Options (CEO) to co-facilitate Networking Meetings. The program grew out of a particular time when community-based programs were finding it difficult to raise the funds to send one or more staff members to an intensive professional development program with multiple meetings over a period of time.
RBF Networking Meetings occur (Note: As of 2017 they are still taking place) three or four times each year and require a low level of commitment from participants. They are a forum for participants from across the city and range of OST programs to come together, share their work, and discuss important issues in the field with other practitioners. Although each session is a stand-alone, one-time meeting, Lawrence and Marten often develop two or three sessions on the same topic to address the needs of both returning and new participants.
Networking sessions actively engage participants through a balance of presentation along with time to reflect and interact with colleagues.
- Video: Excerpt from a Robert Bowne Foundation Networking Meeting on Youth as Staff, facilitated by Suzanne Marten from the Center for Educational Options, held May 13, 2013.
- Gallery: The network created among the seminar cohort during the Julia Palmer Library Development and Literacy Support Project leads to significant learning from each other as they share the results of their work during an April 30, 2015 celebration.
- Snapshot: Example from a Networking Meeting on Family Involvement, including:
- Complete text of follow-up memo from Anne and Suzanne sent to participants
- Selected handouts from the meeting
- Excerpt from debriefing discussion
- Topics of Networking Meetings, 2006-2015