By Bryan Kitch
It was an inspiring, educational, and collaborative three days in Palm Springs, at the 2019 BOOST Conference. Not only was it a great opportunity to connect with out-of-school professionals from across the country, it offered a window into several key themes that permeate the afterschool space looking ahead to the 2019-2020 school year—the importance of relationships, the developing conversation around Social and Emotional Learning, and equitable access to quality programming.
"California is leading the way when it comes to afterschool programming, across the country," says UpMetrics Client Manager, Sam Pastor. "It's a national conference, but it happens in California because this state is basically the afterschool capital."
"It's the only state that has approved state funds dedicated to afterschool," echoes Southwest Managing Director, George Hernandez. "That's a big reason why, as a state, we've gone with the safety angle—the idea that the hours of 3-6pm are critical, and we need to give kids positive opportunities within their communities during those hours."
He continues: “For us, the biggest highlight of the event was a town hall with Michael Funk, entitled ‘Expanding Student Success: The State of Expanded Learning in California.’ One of the things that really stuck out to us was the measurable impact, even just the economic impact, of expanded learning on the rest of the school day. One statistic he mentioned was the enormous amount of funding dollars that participation in afterschool (which is correlated to higher in-school attendance) brings in for school districts here each year.”
All of the above is why it's such an important time for California afterschool programs to come together and collaboratively drive the conversation around metrics.
So often, when there is no consistent system of measurement, or no agreed-upon metrics in a given space, one of two things happens: either the funding dries up, or determining those metrics and desired outcomes is left to funders. Funding sources want to know the return on investment for their support of these programs, and so the top-down approach is based on that desire, instead of on a process of coming together to determine what meaningful success metrics look like for a given sector.
"We need to do a better job of telling the story of afterschool, because we have this opportunity (for a limited time) to determine what good afterschool programming looks like. Right now, there's no one telling us what it needs to look like, what data needs to be collected—but that's not going to last forever." —Sam Pastor
“We need to do a better job of telling the story of afterschool,” Pastor explains, “because we have this opportunity (for a limited time) to determine what good afterschool programming looks like. Right now, there’s no one telling us what it needs to look like, what data needs to be collected—but that’s not going to last forever. And, funders have moved away from afterschool, because they don’t see the clear ties to outcomes—it’s not like First 5 California, where the benefits are much more widely known and accepted. With older youth, especially, it can be much more ambiguous."
That’s a big reason why Hernandez joined UpMetrics.
“Having spent about a decade working in the afterschool space with EduCare, I want to be an advocate for afterschool,” Hernandez says. “What we want to do is help the field as a whole move in this direction where programs can elevate their impact, and make access to quality programming more equitable.”
The greater afterschool community now has the opportunity to help drive that conversation, with emerging data tools and systems for impact analysis.
“Traditionally, afterschool programs have been really good at telling stories about individual kids—really great, powerful stories about these kids, or a class. But there’s nothing tangible to back that up on the macro scale—and that’s where we feel there’s a rich, data-driven story waiting to be told.
“And it’s not just about the data that is currently being collected—it’s about defining what it is that we are using to measure afterschool. Because, if we don’t define it ourselves, foundations, people in education—well meaning people outside of the afterschool ecosystem—are going to define it for us.
“That’s why it’s so important to learn from the approach of early childhood education—that is something now at the forefront of education in California.”
Coming together to define systems of analysis for Social and Emotional Learning (a huge component of afterschool), and evaluate equity and access on the county and state level, the afterschool community could effectively take control of its own destiny.
“We need to be able to define our approach, and we’re running out of time,” says Hernandez. “That’s why I’m here and it’s why I’m so passionate about what we do.”