Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Blog 2: New Haven - Boosting Afterschool with Partners and Data to Get Results

Blog Series - Innovations in 
Expanded Learning Opportunities: 
The Community Schools Strategy

By Laoise King, Vice President of Education Initiatives, 
United Way of Greater New Haven

In the past three years, school and community leaders have worked strategically to grow afterschool programming in 11 of New Haven’s schools. There is a renewed commitment to partnerships and data-informed decision making. The result? Increased participation, increased attendance, and decreased suspension. How did it all happen?

New Haven Public Schools (NHPS) has always been committed to afterschool programming. However, afterschool was approached on a school-by-school basis, meaning students encountered a variety of different experiences and opportunities, if any. While most, though not all, schools had some sort of afterschool activities, programs were uncoordinated and lacked intentionality, accountability, or measurement of outcomes. Afterschool was seen as something completely separate from the school day.

Typical of many school districts around the country, the district knew that afterschool was important, but it lacked the capacity to organize partners and ensure that the programs were aligned with the district’s mission of helping students achieve. The school district also had no system in place for helping schools access other valuable community resources for their students, such as health and behavioral supports. Most schools had some community partners (though one was hard-pressed to find any individual in the building who could name them all!), but those partnerships primarily relied on who the principal happened to know, or which community organizations were located in close proximity to the school.

As a result, New Haven’s 47 schools had vast disparities in both the quantity and quality of academic and non-academic supports available to kids – and as a result, there were vast disparities in academic performance.

Birth of Boost!
New Haven’s mayor, John DeStefano, Jr., and superintendent, Dr. Reginald Mayo, recognized an opportunity to change the way opportunities and supports are delivered at the school site and asked the United Way of Greater New Haven to help create a better strategy for delivering critical wraparound supports for students, including afterschool programming. With help from the Children’s Aid Society, Boost! New Haven Community Schools were born.

Boost!, a unique collaboration between the city, the school district, and the United Way, draws on an extensive network of resources throughout the region to match the needs of schools, students, and families with programs and service providers that give students the tools they need to thrive. Boost! provides a framework for organizing programming and for helping schools see programs as interventions aimed at addressing issues related to their school improvement plans. Expanded learning opportunities, especially afterschool programming, are a central part of Boost’s work and reflect Boost’s principle that children who are healthy and supported will be more successful in school.

Boost! started with five schools during the 2010-2011 school year, and began by helping them assemble their “Boost! teams.” Each school identified a Boost! Coordinator from their existing staff. Currently, coordinators come from a variety of backgrounds, including assistant administrators, to social workers, and in some cases, classroom teachers. They manage between 30-50 program partners and have formed a multi-disciplinary team comprised of school leadership and staff, parents, and representatives from each of the Boost! domains (Physical Health and Wellness, Social, Emotional and Behavioral Health, Student Engagement, and Family Engagement).

Each Boost! team worked together to create an asset map of existing programs and services at their school. At the same time, they looked at data on how their students were performing in each domain. Boost! staff provided the leadership teams with the data they needed to make decisions through a “status report” that includes attendance records, emotional and behavioral health statistics, feedback from school climate surveys, and data from school nurses and the physical education department. When schools reviewed their asset maps against their status report, they were able to clearly identify the gaps.

With the needs identified in for each school, the United Way, as the intermediary, next issued a call to the community through a Request for Information (RFI) process to find out which community organizations could provide the kinds of services the schools need.

The school needs assessment and the community RFI has become an annual process. Each year United Way receives between 75-100 responses from organizations able to meet the needs identified by the schools. School teams then comb through the responses, meet with respondents, and negotiate existing and new partnerships. They articulate the purpose for the partnership, outline expected results, and agree upon outcome measures.

Cultural Shifts: Making Data-informed Partnership Decisions for Afterschool Programming
This process was a huge culture shift for schools. Many were wary of a new way of finding partners, and questioned whether they needed to go through the additional steps and analysis. With a mindset of “already having enough afterschool activities,” one K-8 school was not interested in the process, specifically for the Student Engagement and Academic Enrichment analysis.

With encouragement from Boost! staff to go through the process, however, the school learned that their 6th and 7th grade girls were disproportionately overweight, and that they had fewer opportunities for exercise than students in other grades. Using those two data points, the school was able to identify a need for afterschool physical activity opportunities for interested 6th and 7th grade girls. They partnered with a hip hop dance program and a (non-contact) kick boxing program. The school is now tracking participation in those activities and student body mass index (BMI) to see whether the classes have an effect on student health and obesity.

Evolution, Growth, and Alignment of Afterschool Programming in Schools
Boost! community schools offer a wide array of opportunities and supports through afterschool programming that are informed by data and aligned with the school day. A few examples illustrate this point:

One high school noted that suspensions as a result of fights were on the rise, and that only 20% of students were participating in afterschool activities. By going through the Boost! process, the school team recognized that a major challenge was the fact that, as a magnet school, students came from different neighborhoods and towns and weren’t bonding to form a community. Based on their team meeting, the school decided to focus on afterschool programming to help students come together and become better engaged. The school eventually brought in 26 different (free!) afterschool programs and clubs, from a model Congress to film-making to a dance team. Participation in afterschool opportunities tripled from 20% to 60%. As a result, the numbers of suspensions due to fighting decreased by half, and participating students increased their school-day attendance by 4%.

At a K–8 school, the principal secured additional funds from the district to provide one hour of academic extended day programming for interested students. Teachers provided additional literacy and math programming that is aligned with the school’s curriculum from 3–4 PM. The school then worked with Boost! to identify community partners to supplement the afterschool program. Students are now able to participate in enrichment programming from 4–5:30 PM that is provided by a combination of district programs and community partners. Some examples of enrichment programming include: students walk to the YMCA down the street for swimming lessons twice a week; Big Brothers Big Sisters has a site-based mentoring program twice per week using high school students from a Boost! high school; Yale Reparatory Theater offers a drama program; and, school staff coach various team sports. Boost! also worked with the city's parks and recreation department to make the school one of its “Open Schools.” The gym remains open from 5–9 PM every night for students from the school and the neighborhood to use for informal basketball games, board games, and tutoring offered by community partners.

At another K-8 school, the school has teamed up with a large community organization called LEAP. LEAP has a well-established neighborhood based community center where they offer a variety of academic, enrichment, and physical activities year round. They have an afterschool program and a summer camp at their site. Boost! staff helped negotiate a satellite LEAP site at this school. The program starts right after school ends. The first hour is devoted to academics - with the curriculum developed in coordination with the school - it includes a combination of the highly successful readers and writers workshops and homework help. After the academic portion, students select from a variety of enrichment activities that are supported by other community partners including dance, music lessons, arts and crafts, sports, and more.

A Smarter Future
These examples are typical among the 11 schools Boost! has worked with for the 2012-2013 year. And Boost! predicts that the trend will continue as it expands to five more schools in the fall.

With a renewed urgency to address the needs of the whole child through afterschool programming, a commitment to creating and maintaining partnerships, and coaching to make intentional decisions based on Results Based Accountability, Boost! community schools are seeing the difference. Schools and community partners are beginning to really see the benefits of making a commitment and holding each other accountable for their mutual goals outcomes. The move from solely relationship-based ad hoc partnerships to intentional, results-based partnerships that build on relationships is an intensive process, but one with high rewards. The students, and the schools, are responding.

When this movement started in New Haven, there was a need to reach out and recruit the first cohort of schools, as few educators in the city were sold on the need for Boost!. This school year, schools have clamored to participate and Boost! will continue to grow.

To learn more about community schools and ELO, visit www.communityschools.org/elo 

The Wallace Foundation, which has sponsored this blog series, offers a library of free resources on expanded learning at www.wallacefoundation.org



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