Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Future of Afterschool

By Sam Piha

As we look forward, we asked several national afterschool leaders to share their thoughts on the future of afterschool. Below are some of their responses.

Photo Credit: NHP Foundation
Q: When considering the future of the afterschool movement, what challenge do you see ahead and how should afterschool stakeholders respond to this challenge? 

Pedro Noguera,

Pedro Noguera: The primary challenge facing those who recognize the importance of after school learning is to make sure that what we offer to children is consistently of high quality. If we want to have an impact on academic and developmental outcomes, quality will be essential.

Dale Blyth,
University of MN

Dale Blyth: In my view, the future holds two major challenges for our field -- how to resource it and how to build the capacity and expertise of the work force. The first will require us to more directly meet the challenge of getting and better using data on outcomes, especially social-emotional outcomes, to both improve what we do and to make the case for resources to do it well. The second requires us to challenge each other, to expect more of ourselves and our staff with respect to quality process and intentional practices that move beyond activity management.  

Eric Gurna,
Eric Gurna: I think our biggest challenge is always to help people to see the critical value of what we do. One way to respond to that is by investing in quality evaluation, so we can show the evidence of tangible outcomes. But equally important is that we engage others to tell our story. It's not enough that leaders in the field are vocal about the importance of the after school movement - we need prominent elected officials, business and civic leaders, artists, athletes and celebrities to speak up as well. 

Another challenge we face in California is the silos we work in, usually based on funding streams. If we can reach across these arbitrary boundaries and build solidarity with everyone who cares about our most vulnerable kids and families, we can raise the profile of the work and create more integrated support systems. I believe we need to collaborate more closely with other closely related fields - early childhood education, juvenile justice, child welfare, etc., so we can go beyond competing for funds and attention and build a movement to create a more child-centered culture.

Chris Smith,
Boston After School & Beyond

Chris Smith: Stakeholders should see change as an opportunity to refresh its appeal and reveal a sector that is both unified in its values and equipped with convincing evidence that a diverse approach to helping young people is also a resilient, adaptable, and scalable one.

Q: As afterschool programs evolve, what do you think are important topics or program innovations that we should be thinking about in the future? 

Dale Blyth: From my perspective, the programs that will grow and succeed in the future are those that have intentional social-emotional learning processes and outcomes they work toward and the types of people who can live them as well as excite youth in topical content areas. These programs may or may not have specific content areas such as the arts or STEM but they will definitely have deliberate ways they work with youth to develop a range of competencies. Content may be king in schools but it should only be a vehicle for good youth development - not the destination.

Eric Gurna: Honestly I think that innovation is overrated. We have so many tried and true practices and programs that are woefully under-resourced. While precious resources are focused on the next new thing, the next pilot project that will likely never achieve scale, we limp along trying to sustain evidence-based practices that have big impact when executed with quality. That said, we are embracing trauma-informed practice, and are engaging in new collaborations to enable LA's BEST to improve and expand how we cultivate emotional health and overall wellness for all our communities. That's exciting and important work, as relevant as it could be in today's social and political climate.

Chris Smith: We should consider the skills that are at the intersection of education, youth development, and college and career readiness. We will find that we share priorities with those outside of the afterschool sector. Taking a step back to consider the long-term outcomes of our work will prompt us to be creative in organizing where, when, and with whom young people are learning. It will open up new alliances and require us to examine how well we are doing and what we need to do to get even better.   

Pedro Noguera, PhD 
is Distinguished Professor of Education
 at the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies

Dale Blyth, Ph.D. is Extension Professor Emeritus and Sr. Research Fellow, Center for Applied Research & Educational Improvement College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota.

Eric Gurna is President & CEO of LA's BEST After School Enrichment Program.

Chris Smith is Executive Director of Boston After School & Beyond.

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