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Priscilla Little reviews promising strategies to promote OST–school connections, culling lessons from a review of out-of-school time evaluations.1

In addition to recognizing the need for a “critical mass” of supports that complement the school day, there is increasing understanding that meaningful links between out-of-school time (OST) programs and schools are essential to supporting children's learning and development in both settings.2 Current 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) legislation includes language to promote partnerships and collaboration to support sustainability of programs. More recently, however, the discussion has turned to promoting partnerships, or linkages, that support learning and development across settings.

The National Governors Association recently profiled its efforts to support extended learning opportunities (ELOs), which provide children ages 5 to 18 with a variety of supervised activities to promote learning and development beyond the school day. They assert that high-quality ELOs have the potential for positive impacts for a variety of stakeholders: (a) for children and families, by providing an enriching supervised environment; (b) for schools, by complementing in-school instruction; (c) for communities, by preventing youth participation in crime; and (d) for states, by ensuring that students have the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in a knowledge-based economy.3

Similarly, other national after school intermediaries such as Educational Development Center and Learning Points have begun to document and collect promising practices regarding OST–school connections.4 While the notion of linking OST programs to schools is not new, the increasing pressure on after school programs to “show results” puts a spotlight on this linkage. At the same time, there is a distinct cry from the field to make sure that the OST–school linkage does not result in “more school.”

Recognizing the potential value in linking OST programs with schools, HFRP scanned its OST Program Evaluation Database to uncover some key mechanisms that help to link and align OST programs and schools in order to better support a range of developmental outcomes. For example, the Seattle Alignment Initiative provides a framework that guides the way schools, school-based after school programs, families, and communities work collectively to support children's academic pursuits. Initiative partners engage in alignment by jointly coordinating program planning, curriculum, and training.5

While creating a shared framework is one approach to, or mechanism for, linkage, a scan of the database indicates that there are other key mechanisms that help to link and align OST programs and schools to better support learning and development. This article culls lessons from over 30 OST evaluations to offer a set of promising strategies for creating meaningful connections between OST programs and schools.6 While some articles in this issue of The Evaluation Exchange illustrate linkage mechanisms other than the five described below, the set below represents promising mechanisms identified through a review of implementation evaluations in the OST Program Evaluation Database.

Shared Space. Many OST programs are located in schools, which can be a first step toward alignment between OST programs and schools. While sharing space can present challenges and conflicts,7 locating an OST program within a school can be beneficial for both the program and the school. In an evaluation of Studio 3D, school administrators noted that locating the after school technology program for disadvantaged youth in schools was helpful in terms of solving transportation issues. Specifically, locating the program in schools enabled families to enroll their children in the program without needing to worry about how they would get them there. In addition to addressing transportation challenges, locating an OST program in a school can also help with recruitment. School staff can assist programs in identifying students who would benefit from participation and can help recruit youth into the program. Locating an OST program in a school can also result in more cost-efficient programming as schools and OST programs pool resources to enhance their facilities.

Some evaluations profiled in the database note that one benefit of school-based OST programs is that school personnel change their perceptions of students' abilities. For example, many OST programs encourage students to participate in performances and exhibitions that tap into skills and talents that may be hidden from a classroom teacher given the nature of the school-day curriculum. School-based OST programs can host performances during the school day, enabling the entire study body and school personnel to observe students in a different light and to recognize a broader range of skills and talents than may be observable during the school day alone. Finally, as articulated in Holly Morehouse's article, sharing space can have a profound and positive impact on schools, particularly in regard to school culture. Through school-based after school programs, students and teachers can build multidimensional relationships, and students can demonstrate greater involvement in extracurricular learning.

Supportive Leadership. Supportive school leaders are considered a critical component to successful OST–school linkages.8 For example, they can assist in recruitment; facilitate communication between OST programs, schools, and families; help leverage resources; offer programmatic suggestions to align OST programming in support of in-school learning; and, enable school personnel to work in OST programs. An evaluation of the Hawaii After-School Plus Program (A+) reports that principals who actively supported the A+ program helped to create an environment of acceptance for the program within the school building. The Extended Service Schools Initiative evaluation similarly reported that having a principal on the after school governance team resulted in strengthened school participation in the after school initiative and could lead to greater sustainability of the initiative itself.

Shared Staff. Overlap between school and OST staff has the potential to strengthen in-school and out-of-school learning alike. Numerous evaluations point to the potential benefits of employing school-day teachers in OST programs. An evaluation of the Fort Worth Afterschool Program (FWAS) found that when school-day teachers were employed in FWAS it was more likely that there was a schoolwide strategy in place between the school and the after school program regarding homework assignments. Similarly, an evaluation of Sacramento START found that using school-day teachers as literacy coaches aided in the school's communication with the OST program leaders and site directors.

In addition to fostering better communications between the school and the OST program, employing school personnel can also provide content expertise to enhance the skill set of the OST program staff, especially in the areas of literacy and mathematics. However, an evaluation of Quest for Excellence cautions that when employing school-day teachers as tutors, coordination between the tutors and the students' regular school-day teachers is critical to ensure that the “right” skills are being reinforced. While some evaluations report that hiring school-day teachers can be problematic because of burnout,9 the first-year national 21st CCLC evaluation reported that middle school teachers felt their classroom teaching skills and relationships with students improved after being involved in after school programming.

The After School Corporation (TASC) evaluation reported similar results, with the majority of staff who were also school personnel reporting that their dual roles benefited the TASC program and the school alike. Increasingly, OST program leaders are observing that when school-day teachers are exposed to the inquiry-based learning approaches prevalent in OST programs, these approaches can influence their classroom practices and improve in-school teaching and learning.

Curriculum Alignment. Curriculum alignment between schools and OST programs is perhaps the most controversial of all mechanisms to support OST–school linkage. OST providers, who have long struggled to ensure that their programs develop and maintain an identity of “not school,” are concerned that aligning curriculum with schools will lead to replication of the school day. However, evaluations reveal that OST programs and schools that align—not replicate—their activities to complement each other can support student success while maintaining the identity of each institution.

For example, an evaluation of TASC, which found positive academic and development outcomes associated with sustained program participation, indicates that TASC programs had a high degree of partnership and coordination with their host schools, requesting input from teachers and principals on students' academic needs, coordinating homework with assistance from classroom teachers, and using school themes for special projects. On a more formal basis, other OST programs are establishing alignment through a shared focus on state standards and assessments. The Maryland After School Community Grants Program (MASCGP) conducts an assessment of all its participants and then develops individualized academic plans for all its students, tying these plans to an assessment of in-school educational needs. It then provides a multicomponent program, which includes targeted academic instruction, activities to promote social skills, and bonding activities such as sports, arts, and other recreational activities that help boost participation rates.

Shared Vision. Regardless of the mechanisms that OST programs and schools use to promote connections, it is important for each institution to articulate the “exchange of value”10 enabled by the linkage. Some programs, such as The San Francisco Beacons Initiative in California, have developed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that clearly articulates the expectations of the schools and the Beacons centers, but most programs reviewed did not enter into a formal MOU to establish shared expectations. Whether the process is formal or informal, however, OST programs and schools should ask themselves the following questions: How will each stakeholder benefit from the linkage? What are the motivations at the individual and institutional level for developing the linkage? Will the whole be greater than the sum of the parts in terms of participant outcomes? Answering these questions will require the articulation of a joint vision statement that acknowledges the contributions of each of the partners, the work they will do collectively, and the work they will do independently.

Discussing the exchange of value and shared vision at the outset of the OST–school linkage can help identify the key ways in which the linkage will occur and the expected value-added of the linkage for the program, the school, and those who have the most to gain from the OST–school linkage—the young people.

1 The author wishes to acknowledge the research support of a former consultant, Katie Pfeiffer, who conducted a scan of the OST Program Evaluation Database in preparation for this article.
2 Harvard Family Research Project. (2005). Complementary learning. The Evaluation Exchange, 9(1).
3 Wright, E. (2005). Supporting student success: A governor's guide to extra learning opportunities. Washington, DC: National Governors Association.
4 See, for example, Education Development Center. (2006). Afterschool time: Choices, challenges, and new directions. Boston: Author; see also Learning Points' complementary learning website at
5 Tenney-Espinosa, S. (2005). Seattle school district's community alignment initiative. The Evaluation Exchange, 11(1), 20.
6 All evaluations referred to in this article can be found in the HFRP's OST Program Evaluation Database.
7 Wimer, C., Post, M., & Little, P. M. D. (2004). Leveraging resources to promote positive school–CBO relationships. Afterschool Matters, 3, 13–21.
8 Lauver, S., & Little, P. M. D. (2005). Finding the right hook. The School Administrator, 62(5), 27–30.
9 See, for example, the evaluation of the Owensboro, Kentucky 21st Century Community Learning Centers, profiled in HFRP's OST Program Evaluation Database.
10 Ellis, L.-A. (2006). A presentation on the Agenda for Children given at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Priscilla Little, Associate Director, HFRP


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