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It is with great pleasure that we announce the 2017 BOOST Conference Keynote Speaker, Former Senator Barbara Boxer!


Barbara Boxer BOOST Conference photo - eblast resize


BOOST Collaborative and Afterschool Alliance invite you to join us in honoring Senator Barbara Boxer at this year's BOOST Conference in Palm Springs, CA. Jodi Grant, Executive Director, Afterschool Alliance, will be presenting Boxer with an OSTI (Out of-School Time Innovations) Award on Wednesday, April 19th followed by a keynote address, audience Q & A, and book signing.

Schedule: April 19, 2017

  • 12:30pm-1:30pm - OSTI Award, Keynote, Audience Q & A
  • 1:30pm-2:30pm - Meet the Authors, Meet & Greet, Book Signing

Be sure to purchase your keynote book today! Log in to your online account to add or call us at 619-23-BOOST (619-232-6678)


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Introducing: Barbara Boxer

A forceful advocate for families, children, consumers, the environment and her State of California, Barbara Boxer became a United States Senator in January 1993 after 10 years of service in the House of Representatives and six years on the Marin County Board of Supervisors. In January 2017, she stepped down after four terms in the Senate.

A champion of quality public education, Senator Boxer wrote landmark legislation establishing the first-ever federal funding for afterschool programs. Her law now covers 1.6 million children. She continues to work to expand afterschool programs nationwide as chair of the Senate Afterschool Caucus.

A strong supporter of the 1994 crime bill, she has worked to fund anti-gang programs, pass the Violence Against Women Law (VAWA), and the Community Policy "COPS" Program. Her bill to prevent the criminal use of personal information obtained through motor vehicle records was signed into law and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Read more about Barbara Boxer

BOOST Conference April 18-21, 2017, Palm Springs, CA
The deadline to register for the BOOST Conference is March 24, 2017. Register here.

Published in Breakfast Club

It's 2017 and here's what we're up against: A billionaire Secretary of Education is committed to dismantling public education as we know it. The White House is targeting immigrants, many of whom are Latino and Asian families living in the communities we serve. A Congressional majority is determined to repeal the Affordable Care Act and reduce Medicaid, both of which provide the only healthcare insurance available to many of the families of the children who attend our programs.

A Department of Agriculture Secretary nominee is recommending eliminating the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), free and reduced price meals and summer meal programs – the food so many children and young people in our programs depend on. Federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers funding may be an easy next step. And the list goes on.

I'm all about doing our best to prevent these things from happening, and I devote part each day to doing this. I also am painfully aware of the fact that the challenges ahead are compounded by the demands we already face. At the state and local levels, new minimum wage laws are increasing program costs each year.


Andi F Photo


I am clear about the seriousness of all of this, but I outright reject reducing the number of students who can attend our programs. I believe this is outrageous, unacceptable, irresponsible – and unnecessary. I won't look a child or his or her parents in the eye and say I'm sorry you can't be in our program anymore. Will you? We can, and must, do better! If you haven't done so already, the first step is to stop the overdependence that you may have on federal support.

It's been almost 15 years since the first edition of Securing Balanced, Diversified and Sustainable Funding for Afterschool Programs: Ten Steps to Success was published. This article has appeared on hundreds of websites. Thousands of program directors and others have attended my workshops. And many of the CEOs and District Administrators I've had the privilege of working with have positioned themselves to weather any financial storm now or in the future. You can, too!

The premise is simple, replicable, socially responsible, fiscally prudent and politically attractive. The argument is compelling to funders and the strategies have proven to make all the difference in whether programs achieve their potential or come up short financially. You can download a free copy at Children can't wait and neither should we. Let's keep co-creating the future together!

For breakfast I had yogurt, blueberries, granola and coffee between social media advocacy and calls to Washington, DC.

Published in Breakfast Club

In partnership with the Afterschool Alliance, we hope you'll pass this along to parents and friends to help raise awareness for afterschool programs by writing a short letter to your local newspaper.  This is a repost from the Afterschool Snack blog. Happy Valentine's Day from all of us at the BOOST office!



"This year, my Valentine is to a program that makes all the difference for me and for my family," So began West Valley City, Utah, resident Amanda Owens in her Salt Lake Tribune letter-to-the editor in 2015. The "program" she went on to describe was her son's afterschool program, run by the Community Education Partnership.

Amanda Owens is not alone. For the past several years, a number of parents of children in afterschool programs around the nation have sent similar letters to their local newspapers explaining from the heart why they love their children's afterschool programs.

Are you a parent with a child in afterschool who feels the same way? Or are you a program provider with parents who might be willing to send a letter?
If yes, here are few questions Valentine letter writers might consider as they write.

  • Do you love that your child's afterschool programs helps with homework?
  • Do you love that your child's program keeps her or him safe in the afternoons and during the summer?
  • Do you love that your child's program gives her or him opportunities to get physical exercise, and provides healthy snacks or meals?
  • Do you love the way afterschool program staff care for your child?
  • Do you love the way your child's eyes sparkle when she or he talks about what they do in the afternoons?




It's easy to submit letters-to-the-editor; most newspapers will take them via their website or by email. To find out about word limits and how to submit, just do a web search for the name of your newspaper and the words "letter-to-the-editor submission." If that doesn't work, try going to the newspaper's website, finding the letters section and looking for submission guidelines.

But the most important tip is the obvious one: Write from the heart!




That tip also applies to another way you can show why you love afterschool: social media. We've created a simple toolkit with guidelines and a printable that you and the afterschool students, parents and providers in your life can use to share what you love about these programs.

Participating is simple: Just print a page straight from the toolkit, fill it out with the heartfelt reasons you love afterschool, snap a photo of the finished product, and share it on your favorite social media sites using the hashtag #AfterschoolWorks (for example, "#AfterschoolWorks for my students!").

We can't wait to see the reasons you and the parents of kids in your program love afterschool. Be sure to tag us @afterschool4all on Twitter and Instagram or @afterschoolalliancedc on Facebook so that we see your social media posts and any letters-to-the-editor that you get published!

Published in Breakfast Club

Planning a new program or improvements to an existing program usually involves setting objectives, planning activities, and other critical tasks. In the excitement of planning something new, it can seem like a buzzkill to ask, "What could go wrong?"

team meetingSeveral months ago, I started asking this question consistently with staff teams in my division of the Ann Arbor Public Schools. We discussed it when we were planning a kick-off meeting for a district-wide initiative, when we were considering a major program change on a tight time frame, and when we were decided whether or not to cancel programs because of a forecasted snow storm. (Yes, I'm writing this in Michigan!)

I've found that staff teams benefit enormously from adding this question to the planning process. Sometimes staff have concerns but don't know exactly how or when to share them. Other times, "nay-say-ers" derail planning by peppering the conversation with all the detailed problems that could arise. Using a neutral discussion framework that's built into the planning process provides assurance to all staff that their concerns will be heard -- of course, it also helps prevent or minimize future problems.

I like using the Potential Problem Analysis (PPA) framework that's available from the non-profit TregoEd. (I work in a school district and have been trained in all four of TregoEd's collaborative decision-making tools.)

Broadly, a PPA helps you prepare for problems that could impact your program's success. It's helpful when you're implementing a new program, planning for a significant event, or making program changes.

Conducting a PPA is simple. All you need is a facilitator, your planning team, and some chart paper for recording responses.

1. First, ask the team "What could go wrong with our plans?" Ask the team to keep their answers succinct -- it's not necessary to go into every detail or repeat answers.

2. List people's answers on the chart paper, leaving space between each answer. The facilitator should let staff generate as many as they want, but don't allow the discussion to get too far out there (i.e. it's unlikely that aliens will land and disrupt the program).

3. Go back to the top of the list. For each potential problem, ask: "How could we prevent this from happening?" The answers often turn into specific action steps.

4. Return to the top of the list. Ask: "If this [potential problem] happens, what will we do to minimize the negative impact?"

5. If you end up with numerous potential problems, the team can prioritize 3-4 that are most important to prevent. Others can be worked on as time/opportunity permits.

6. For each potential problem on the short list, ask "What action steps will occur, Who will do them, and by When?"

rubic cube

I've used this process many times, sometimes as a full-blown process like what is outlined above, and sometimes just talking through the essential questions. The key thing is for the team to know ahead of time that you're going to have this conversation. This assures everyone (naysayers, too!) that there will be time to consider and plan for potential problems.

Using this simple question has improved program and event quality and decreased stress for staff at my organization. Hint: you can use it when making life decisions as well. Happy problem preventing!


For breakfast, I had an egg, turkey bacon, and cheese sandwich on an English muffin.

Published in Breakfast Club

Under normal circumstances, I'm not one to be political in a public and professional forum, but really, I'm in need of some writing therapy. Every day, I read the latest news story about another negative appointment to the President- elect's cabinet. Who knew there were so many people who both seem to despise the role of government AND also want to lead it? While alarming, those aren't even the most upsetting parts of my daily doldrums. What really brings me down are the escalating stories about racist attacks on a whole array of people who are part of the fabric and heart of this country. Apparently freed by Donald Trump's purposefully divisive and unimaginably offensive comments, far too many people are letting lose what they really think.

To battle my dark cloud, I have three shining lights that brighten my day:

1) California.
2) Expanded learning programs and staff who make a difference in the lives of young people.
3) The amazing young people who will be that difference.

The day after the election, the Partnership for Children & Youth co-hosted a public seminar on social-emotional learning in Sacramento. Driving up from Oakland that morning, I couldn't think past the previous night's unbelievable disappointment. I also assumed there would be zero attendance at the seminar.

Much to my surprise, the room was packed with energetic people, eager to be positive, forward-thinking and impactful. Love California! (If you haven't already, please read this inspiring statement from the California Legislature.) The conversation about social-emotional learning was certainly timely – what stronger call to action than the election of a person who lacks the most basic skills around self-management, social awareness, growth mindset, etc. As you can imagine, the conversation was rich. It focused on the educational imperative to go beyond testing and academics, and to intentionally and effectively support students in building the skills they will need to be responsible, inclusive and active citizens. These citizens – with stronger critical thinking skills and experience as leaders - can work together to build and maintain a positive community for everyone.

SEL circle

Expanded learning was a primary player in this conversation. With deep roots in youth development, expanded learning programs help young people understand their potential and reach for it. Staff, like you, are deeply committed to creating safe spaces, giving kids the opportunity to learn and practice skills, encouraging their ideas and actions, and teaching them about their impact on each other and the world. The essence of youth worker skill is captured in the CDE's quality standards that clearly define what we're doing to make young people feel "I am, I belong, I can" – the essence of SEL skills as defined by your peers in "Student Success Comes Full Circle." Thank you, ELO staff. You are nurturing the next and better generation.


My 16-year-old daughter cried the night Trump won. But, she woke up in the morning with a smile and the realization that she'll be 18 and eligible to vote in the mid-term election. And then there's my favorite map from the election – showing the beautiful blue voting patterns of 18 to 25-year-olds. Watch out, Trump! There are a lot of smart, extremely motivated young women and men eager to mess with your agenda. Amazing young people who will be the difference!


For breakfast, I've been adding extra sugar in my coffee, hoping to get rid of the bitter taste in my mouth. 

Published in Breakfast Club

These last few days have not been normal. I have spent my morning breaking up political fights. Not in Washington, not in my community or at a protest, but in my K-5 before and after school program. And that breaks my heart.

The day after the election, my kids were either devastated or elated as they walked through my door, with only a few falling somewhere in between. On one side, this in itself makes me proud. Proud that we are encouraging our kids, no matter the age, to be a part of the political process. But the other side of me, the larger side, is heartbroken that this election has not only divided us, this beautiful country that I love, but our kids as well.

As I thought through my morning and the many similar mornings and afternoons to come, this is what I shared with my staff. It is my hope that we take this opportunity to grow our little learners and instill in them values that they can use in the years to come:

The coming days are going to be interesting days at Adventure Club. Just as you are all probably wrestling through a variety of emotions as you process the results of the Presidential Election, our kids are as well. We're asking them to grasp some pretty big ideas with some still growing brains... some concepts that are hard for even us to work through. This morning, I was struck by the amount of students affected in some way by the election, with very few of them coming in without an opinion.

As I've thought through how to best handle the coming days, these are the thoughts I am left with. I appreciate in advance your ability to set aside your personal opinions for the good of the group. May we learn these lessons alongside our kids, as we continue to move forward through our year and the years to come.

Our kids are going to have questions. And that's ok. Let's teach them how to ask them respectfully, how to seek solutions to the issues they see as ongoing problems, and how to advocate for what they believe in.

Our kids are going to have fears. And that's ok. Let's take this time to reassure them that school is a safe place for them to be the unique individuals that they are. That we will continue to support them as they go through life.


(Some of) our kids are going to be sad or upset. That's ok. Emotions are always valid and ok to feel. Let's share with our kids that the Presidential Election was actually one of many elections that took place. That we have a system of checks and balances in our government that doesn't allow for any one person to have ultimate control.

(Some of) our kids are going to be happy. That's ok. Let's teach them to win gracefully, to understand that not everyone has the same views, and that the right to disagree is a good thing – it can challenge and grow us to hear things from a different perspective.

Our kids are going to say things that you disagree with. Let's show them the value in calm responses, and how it looks to respectfully disagree without trying to change their minds. Let's engage in forward-thinking conversations as we set the example for what we want their conversations with each other to look like.

Today is going to be an interesting day at Adventure Club. But interesting is not always bad. Feel free to send kids my way if you reach a point where the conversation turns in a way that makes you uncomfortable or is something that you don't know how to handle. I can't guarantee that I have all the answers, but I can guarantee that I'll listen, and that's sometimes all that a person needs.

Here's to our Adventure Club community growing closer despite the divisive ideals our kiddos may walk in with. Here's to our community respecting and valuing the opinions of others even if they are different than our own. And here's to us, the adults, remembering that if we don't have it all together, there's no way our kids will.


For breakfast, I had coffee with a donut.  

Image Credit

Published in Breakfast Club

Having made it through the hectic beginning of the new school year, now is a great time to take a fresh look at the food served in your afterschool program. Food is an important part of any afterschool program, helping to draw in children and to ensure that they are not hungry and can fully benefit from the activities being offered. Is your program providing fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low fat milk?

For the millions of children who live in homes struggling to put food on the table and/or are overweight or obese, the adequacy and nutrition quality of the food provided at their afterschool programs is particularly crucial. The federal Afterschool Meal and Snack Programs through the Child and Adult Care Food Program reimburse schools, local government agencies, and private nonprofits for serving meals and snacks at programs.

eating lunch

This funding can support programs in serving higher quality meals and snacks. A simple meal could be turkey on whole wheat bread, carrot sticks, apple slices, and milk. And programs that operate long enough can provide both a meal and a snack.

To qualify, sites must be located in low-income areas and offer educational and enrichment activities. Meals and snacks can snacks can be served at programs operating after school, on weekends, and during school vacations and holidays.

boy eating blueberries

Afterschool programs also can improve the quality and appeal of the food served by incorporating local foods into the menu. FRAC recently updated Fresh from the Farm: Using Local Foods in the Afterschool and Summer Nutrition Programs, which provides step by step guidance and best practices.

Grants are available to schools to support Farm to School initiatives. Programs that work with schools can encourage their school nutrition department to apply for these grants, which can be used to incorporate local foods into meals provided through the school, afterschool, and summer nutrition programs.


For breakfast, I had corn flakes with blueberries, a glass of milk, and coffee.

Published in Breakfast Club

The third issue of the Journal of Expanded Learning Opportunities (JELO) has arrived! This spring issue launched at the 2016 BOOST conference and features a conversation about quality programming in afterschool, an article on the role that social emotional learning can play to close the achievement and learning gaps, and an article focusing on the links between professional development and quality STEM learning experiences. You can visit the first week's installment about social emotional learning, last week's piece with a researcher and practitioner conversation. Today's blog features a study conducted by Deborah Lowe Vandell, Ph.D., Rahila Simzar, Ph.D., Pilar O'Cadiz, Ph.D. and Valerie Hall, Ph.D. from the University of California, Irvine.

Author Note

This project was supported by funding from the S. D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, the Noyce Foundation, and the Samueli Foundation in collaboration with the Afterschool Division of the California Department of Education. The views expressed in this paper are those of the named authors and are not necessarily the views of the project funders.


This study reports the results from a STEM learning initiative involving 96 public funded afterschool programs in California. Relations between professional development, staff beliefs, quality of STEM learning activities, and changes in student outcomes were examined over an academic year (2013-2014). STEM professional development experiences were linked positively to program staff beliefs about the value of STEM learning, which were linked to the quality of STEM learning activities reported at the programs, which were linked to several student outcomes, including gains in student work habits, math efficacy, science efficacy, and science interests. These findings support the utility of STEM professional development in afterschool settings.

Keywords: afterschool, STEM learning, professional development, staff beliefs

Findings From an Afterschool STEM Learning Initiative: Links to Professional Development and Quality STEM Learning Experiences

Improving the quality of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education has become a national priority (Dabney et al., 2012; Krishnamurthi, Ballard, & Noam, 2014; National Research Council, 2011, 2012; Simzar & Domina, 2014). Although the majority of these efforts during the K-12 period have focused on improving in-school STEM learning, there is a growing awareness of the potential role of afterschool programs in promoting STEM learning (Bell, Lewenstein, Shouse, & Feder, 2009; National Research Council, 2015). However, efforts to introduce ongoing and high quality STEM experiences in out-of-school (OST) settings face serious challenges. One challenge is that a substantial proportion of afterschool staff members have limited education and training in STEM subjects (Vandell & Lao, 2015). A second challenge is high staff turnover (Vandell & Lao, 2015). A third challenge is structural barriers—many afterschool programs have weak relationships with host schools, which limit programs' access to STEM learning materials and opportunities to coordinate activities with classroom teachers (Bennett, 2015).

The purpose of the present study is to examine the effects of an afterschool professional development initiative in the State of California to determine (a) if professional development activities are linked to program staff beliefs about the importance of STEM learning; (b) if, in turn, staff beliefs are related positively to quality of STEM-related activities in the afterschool classrooms; and (c) finally, if the quality of STEM-related experiences is associated with changes in student STEM-related dispositions over an academic year.

A Compelling Need for Staff Professional Development

Although program staff are charged with leading engaging and meaningful learning activities at afterschool programs, their education and training is typically more limited than K-12 classroom teachers. K-12 classroom teachers have four-year college degrees as a minimum, and the majority (56%) have a master's degree or more (U.S. Department of Education, 2010). In contrast, less than half of afterschool staff members have four-year degrees and less than 20% have a master's degree (Nee, Howe, Schmidt, & Cole, 2006). In addition, K-12 classroom teachers complete hundreds of hours of pedagogical training and supervised field experiences prior to becoming the instructor of record in their classrooms. Staff members in afterschool programs do not typically undergo this type of preparation (Nee et al., 2006).
Thus, while many afterschool staff members bring energy and commitment to their work, there is a great need to expand staff development opportunities for further education and training in the field, especially if programs seek to expand their offerings to include enriched STEM (Dennehy & Noam, 2005). The present study examines the effects of one such effort to offer professional development at multiple afterschool sites. Here, professional development refers to a diverse set of activities such as trainings offered by other organizations, informal and formal meetings among staff members, meetings with classroom teachers, and coaching by internal and external advisors.

Context for the Present Study

There are a growing number of public and private efforts to create meaningful STEM learning opportunities in afterschool contexts (Bevan & Michalchik, 2013; Krishnamurthi et al., 2014). Included in these efforts is the work of 17 statewide afterschool networks that have sought to coordinate efforts to support afterschool STEM learning (National Research Council, 2015). The present study focuses on one such initiative that was developed by the California Afterschool Network and a consortium of foundations. This statewide initiative was a three-year project aimed at increasing STEM learning opportunities in publicly funded afterschool programs serving low-income, ethnically diverse students.
Figure 1 presents the logic model underlying this state-level initiative. The logic model is sequential, with Professional Development and Curricula Innovation support represented in the box on the left side of Figure 1.

Figure 1.

Logic Model STEM

Figure 1. Logic model for the out-of-school time STEM initiative. Professional Development and Curricula Innovation support is represented by the box on the left. Professional development was expected to yield improvements in (a) Staff Beliefs about the value of STEM learning and feelings of efficacy when implementing STEM activities, and (b) Program Offerings (the quantity and quality of STEM activities offered by programs). Staff Beliefs and Program Offerings were expected to be mutually reinforcing, as illustrated by the bi-directional arrow between the two circles. Staff Beliefs and Program Offerings were then expected to yield improvements in Student Outcomes, the diamond box on the far right of the figure. Student outcomes included student reported work habits, student reports of efficacy in math and science, science interest, and career aspirations in the STEM domain.

Professional development was expected to yield improvements in (a) staff beliefs about the value of STEM learning and feelings of efficacy when implementing STEM activities, and (b) the quantity and quality of STEM activities offered by programs. Staff beliefs and program offerings were expected to be mutually reinforcing, as illustrated by the bi-directional arrows. Staff beliefs and program activities were then expected to yield improvements in student outcomes, the box on the far right of the figure. Student outcomes included student reported work habits, feelings of efficacy in math and science, science interest, and career aspirations in the STEM domain. These student dispositions are important predictors of students' likelihood to pursue STEM topics in the future (Bell et al., 2009; Bevan & Michalchik, 2013).



A total of 601 afterschool program sites, located in five of California's afterschool regions, participated in the STEM learning initiative in 2013-14. These five regions were originally selected in 2012-13, following a statewide competition. As part of the initiative, programs received technical assistance from Regional Innovation Support Providers (RISPs) who facilitated access to high quality staff training materials and curricular resources and who assisted partnerships among programs and support agencies. In this paper, we focus on the effectiveness of the initiative in 2013-14 at 96 program sites with all five regions represented by at least eight program sites.


A research team from the University of California, Irvine was responsible for overseeing data collection. Surveys were administered to program staff and to students using an online format. Program staff also reported the quantity and quality of STEM activities on a daily basis using STEM Activity Documentation Forms.

Program staff surveys. Online surveys were designed based on studies and administered to 178 staff in fall of 2013 and to 90 staff in spring of 2014 in which program staff reported various demographic characteristics (gender, age, ethnicity), educational background (highest level obtained), professional experience, and job tenure in their current position (Noam & Sneider, 2010). Staff reported their professional development activities, which included how often they attended (1) general professional development training, (2) STEM-related trainings, (3) staff meetings on general topics, and (4) staff meetings on STEM topics in the past academic year. Staff also reported how often they met with classroom teachers to discuss STEM concepts being taught in school (Vandell, Warschauer, O'Cadiz, & Hall, 2008). A complete list of these measures and corresponding items are provided in Appendix A.

Staff reported their beliefs about the value of STEM learning for youth and their feelings of confidence (efficacy) when implementing STEM learning activities (adapted from Vandell et. al., 2008). Staff beliefs about the value of STEM learning for youth was assessed with seven items (e.g., "I think students look forward to coming to the afterschool program when we have STEM activities going on"). Staff efficacy for implementing STEM activities was assessed with seven items asking staff to report on their sense of competency leading STEM activities (e.g., "I feel confident about teaching Science, Technology, Engineering, and/or Mathematics in the afterschool program"). These constructs were scored on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). A complete list of items and internal consistencies of the scales for pre- and post- surveys, which were all acceptable, are provided in Appendix B.

Student surveys. Online surveys based on literature were administered to 3,738 students in fall 2013 and to 1,871 students in spring 2014. Students self-reported their work habits, math efficacy, science efficacy, social competencies, science interest, and science career aspirations (Noam & Sneider, 2010; Tyler-Wood, Knezek, & Christensen, 2010; Vandell, et al., 2008). Students' work habits were assessed using six items (e.g., "I follow the rules in my classroom"). Both efficacy measures (math and science) were assessed using four items each (e.g., "I am good at math/science"). Science interest was assessed using 22 items (e.g., "Science is something I get excited about"). Social competencies were assessed using seven items (e.g., "I work well with other kids") and students' science career aspirations were assessed using four scales (e.g., "I will have a career in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics"). These constructs were scored on a 4-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree). A complete list of items and internal consistencies of the scales for pre- and post- surveys ranging from acceptable to excellent, are provided in Appendix C.

STEM Activity Documentation Forms. These forms were developed by the authors to document specific activities at program sites. Staff recorded the following information about each STEM activity that was implemented: (a) date and duration of the activity; (b) number of students participating in the activity; (c) name of activity and STEM content area addressed; and (d) 4-point ratings of the level of student engagement, level of challenge, and overall assessment of success of the activity. A total of 2,457 STEM activities were reported during 2013-14.

Program Staff

A total of 178 program staff at 78 sites reported their background characteristics. As shown in Table D1 (Appendix D includes Tables 1 through 8), a substantial majority of the staff was female (72%). The staff was ethnically diverse: 46% were Hispanic, 25% were white, 11% were Asian and 6% were African American. The staff was relatively young, with almost half (49%) being between 18 and 25 years, and 30% being between 26 and 35 years. The educational background of the staff varied widely. One-fourth reported having completed a four-year college degree, and 10% reported having post-graduate education. The remainder (65%) had less than a college degree, with the highest proportion (1/3) reporting "some college."

Staff reported diverse professional experience. The majority (61%) of the program staff reported having experience working in an afterschool setting (e.g., leading activities and/or working directly with youth) and approximately half (51%) of the program staff had experience working as a classroom aide or teaching assistant. Finally, staff reported the length of employment at the program site. Here, 29% reported working at the respective program sites for less than six months. Almost half of the program staff (47%) reported having worked at their program site for less than three years.

Program Students

Surveys were completed by 3,738 students during the fall 2013 data collection. These students were fairly evenly divided by gender (49% male and 51% female). The majority of the students were in elementary school, with most of the students (72%) being in Grades 3 through 5. Twenty percent of the students who provided surveys were in middle school. Less than 1% of the students were in high school (Grades 9 through 12).

Types of STEM Activities That Occurred in the Afterschool Programs

A total of 2,457 STEM activities were reported by 84 staff at 53 program sites. As shown in Table D2, the majority (55%) of STEM activities focused on science. Typically, 28 students participated in each activity. Activities were between 30 and 59 minutes in duration. The majority of the reported activities involved students who were in third, fourth, and fifth grade (46%, 54%, and 47%, respectively). Staff reported that students were "mostly" engaged during 36% of the activities implemented and that they were "very" engaged during 56% of the activities implemented (an average of 3.48 on a rating scale from 1 to 4). Lastly, staff reported that the activities implemented went "mostly" well approximately 38% of the time and "very" well approximately 53% of the time (an average of 3.43 on a rating scale from 1 to 4).

Professional Development as it Relates to Staff Beliefs About STEM Learning

Our first substantive analysis asks if specific types of professional development were related to staff beliefs about the importance of STEM learning for youth and to staff feelings of efficacy when implementing STEM activities. Tables D3 and D4 present standardized regression coefficients predicting staff beliefs about the importance of STEM learning and efficacy for implementing STEM activities, respectively.

In Table D3, Models 1, 2, 3, and 4 examine associations between specific types of professional development activities and staff beliefs about the importance of STEM learning. Model 1 indicates that higher levels of staff training during the past academic year is associated with a .32σ increase in staff-reported beliefs about the importance of STEM learning. Model 2 indicates that a one-σ higher level of STEM staff attending training during the past academic year is associated with a .29σ increase in staff-reported beliefs about the importance of STEM learning. Models 3 indicates that a one-σ increase in the frequency of staff meetings to discuss program issues is associated with a .29σ increase in staff-reported beliefs about the importance of STEM learning. Lastly, Model 4 indicates that a one-σ increase in the frequency of staff meetings to discuss STEM programming is associated with a .27σ increase in staff-reported beliefs about the importance of STEM learning.

In Table D4, Models 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 show associations between specific types of professional development activities and staff feelings of efficacy when implementing STEM activities. Model 1 indicates that, on average, a one-σ increase in staff attending training during the past academic year is associated with a .29σ increase in staff-reported efficacy for implementing STEM activities. Model 3 indicates that a one-σ increase in the frequency of staff meetings to discuss program issues is associated with a .30σ increase in staff-reported efficacy for implementing STEM activities. Model 4 indicates that a one-σ increase in the frequency of staff meetings to discuss STEM programming is associated with a .36σ increase in staff-reported efficacy for implementing STEM activities. Model 5 indicates that a one-σ increase in the frequency of staff meetings with classroom teachers to discuss STEM concepts being taught in school is associated with a .28σ increase in staff-reported efficacy for implementing STEM activities. Lastly, Model 6 indicates that a one-σ increase in the frequency of staff meetings with parents about STEM activities is associated with a .23σ increase in staff-reported efficacy for implementing STEM activities.

Staff Beliefs Linked to the Quality of STEM Learning Activities

Our second set of substantive analyses asks if staff beliefs are linked to the quality of STEM activities at the afterschool programs. Table D5 presents the standardized regression coefficients relating staff beliefs to two measures of STEM activity quality and Table 6 presents standardized regression coefficients relating staff efficacy for implementing STEM activities to two measures of STEM activity quality. The analytical model views activity quality as a product of these staff beliefs net of determinants such as staff gender, ethnicity, and the number of students participating in the activity. Because the reports of STEM activities reported by staffs that share a site are not independent, we clustered standard errors on site identification to account for the non-random assignment of staff into sites.

In Table D5, Models 1 and 2 indicate that, on average, a one-σ increase in staff beliefs about the importance of STEM learning is associated with a .25σ increase in staff reports of student engagement during STEM activities and a .14σ increase in staff reports of how well the STEM activities went overall. In Table D6, Models 1 and 2 indicate that a one-σ increase in staff efficacy for implementing STEM activities is associated with a .27σ increase in staff reports of student engagement during STEM activities and a .09σ increase in staff reports of how well the STEM activities went overall.

The Quality of the STEM Learning Activities Related to Student Outcomes

Our third set of analyses asks if the quality of the STEM learning activities predicts changes in student outcomes over the academic year. Tables D7 and D8 present standardized regression coefficients predicting six student outcomes (work habits, math efficacy, science efficacy, social competency, science interest, and science career aspirations). The analytical model views each student outcome as a function of prior functioning in the domain and other determinants such as measures of activity quality (student engagement and how activities went overall) and student gender. Because student outcomes for students that share a site are not independent of one another, we cluster standard errors on site identification to account for the non-random assignment of students into sites.

Student engagement in STEM activities. In Table D7, Models 1 through 5 show significant relations between staff reports of student engagement in STEM activities and student outcomes. Specifically, Model 1 indicates that, on average, a one-σ increase in staff reports of student engagement during STEM activities is associated with a .06σ increase in student reports of work habits. Models 2 and 3 indicate that a one-σ increase in staff reports of student engagement during STEM activities is associated with a .06σ increase in student reports of math efficacy and a .13σ increase in student reports of science efficacy, respectively. Model 4 indicates that a one-σ increase in staff reports of student engagement during STEM activities is associated with a .18σ increase in student reports of social competency and Model 5 indicates that a one-σ increase in staff reports of student engagement during STEM activities is associated with a .08σ increase in student reports of science interest.

Overall STEM activity quality. In Table D8, Models 1 through 5 show significant relations between staff reports of how well the STEM activities went overall and student outcomes. Specifically, Model 1 indicates that, on average, a one-σ increase in staff reports of how well the activities went overall is associated with a .08σ increase in student reports of work habits. Models 2 and 3 indicate that a one-σ increase in staff reports of how well the activities went overall is associated with a .14σ increase in student reports of math efficacy and a .04σ increase in student reports of science efficacy, respectively. Model 5 indicates that a one-σ increase in staff reports of how well the activities went overall is associated with a .20σ increase in student reports of social competency and Model 5 indicates that a one-σ increase in staff reports of how well the activities went overall is associated with a .11σ increase in student reports of science interest.


This study examined relations between professional development, staff beliefs, program activities, and student outcomes in a large, systemic effort to support STEM learning in California afterschool programs. The logic model guiding the initiative posited that specific types of professional development activities would relate positively to staff beliefs about the value of STEM programming, which would relate to the quality of STEM activities offered at the afterschool programs, which were expected to support gains in student outcomes.

Findings were consistent with this theory of change. In particular, staff who were exposed to more training activities (both general and STEM-specific) and who attended more staff meetings to discuss general program issues and STEM programming reported stronger beliefs about the value of STEM learning and stronger feelings of efficacy when implementing STEM activities. These findings support the value of a multi-prong approach to professional development within the afterschool context, one that incorporates dedicated training activities, staff meetings, and close links with host schools (Vandell & Lao, 2015).

Also consistent with the STEM initiative's theory of change, the current study found that these staff beliefs were linked to the quality of STEM activities at the participating programs. Staff who endorsed the importance of STEM learning and who felt capable of implementing STEM activities reported higher levels of student engagement in the afterschool programs' STEM activities and the overall quality of the STEM activities implemented. Links between staff beliefs and their practices have been reported in the early childhood (Sheridan, Edwards, Marvin, & Knoche, 2009; Zaslow, 2009) and K-12 in-school (Loucks-Horsley, Stiles, Mundry, Love, & Hewson, 2010) contexts, but have not been specifically studied previously in afterschool programs.

Finally, student engagement in STEM activities in the afterschool programs predicted relative gains in students' work habits, math efficacy, science efficacy, social competency, and science interest over the school year. The strongest relations were found between student engagement and students' math efficacy and social competency. These findings represent one of the first cases in which STEM professional development has been linked to positive student outcomes in the afterschool context.

It is noteworthy that the program staff who participated in the current initiative are similar to the staff profile at many U.S. afterschool programs (National Research Council, 2015; Peter, 2002, 2009; Vandell & Lao, 2015). A substantial majority of the program staff in the current study had less than a college degree. The majority of the program staff members were young adults, between 18 and 25 years of age and had brief tenures in their current position. Almost one in three of the program staff reported working at the program for less than six months. Because their education, training, and prior experience is limited, staff may particularly benefit from ongoing and continuing professional development opportunities that provide curricula supports accompanied by dedicated trainings and opportunities to connect with other program staff, parents, and classroom teachers on STEM-related topics. Importantly, these experiences can enrich students' STEM experiences in afterschool settings and support growth in students' interests and efficacy in the STEM domain.


For breakfast, Deborah had a bowl of cereal topped with fresh peaches.  

Pilar had his favorite Sunday brunch breakfast, which he makes all the time for my family - Mexican Huevos con Chilaquiles (scrambled eggs mixed with fried tortillas, veggies, chile salsa and cheese).

Rahilia enjoyed a piece of toast and scrambled eggs with cheese. 



Bell, P., Lewenstein, B., Shouse, A. W., & Feder, M. A. (Eds.). (2009). Learning science in informal environments: People, places, and pursuits. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Bennett, T. L. (2015). Examining levels of alignment between school and afterschool and associations with student academic achievement. Journal of Expanded Learning Opportunities, 1(2), 4-22.

Bevan, B., & Michalchik, V. (2013). Where it gets interesting: Competing models of STEM learning after school. Afterschool Matters, 17, 1-8.

Dabney, K. P., Tai, R. H., Almarode, J. T., Miller-Friedmann, J. L., Sonnert, G., Sadler, P. M., & Hazari, Z. (2012). Out-of-school time science activities and their association with career interest in STEM. International Journal of Science Education, Part B, 2(1), 63-79.

Dennehy, J., & Noam, G. (2005). Evidence for action: Strengthening after-school programs for all children and youth: The Massachusetts Out-of-School Time Workforce. Achieve Boston, An Initiative of Boston After School & Beyond.

Krishnamurthi, A., Ballard, M., & Noam, G. G. (2014). Examining the impact of afterschool STEM Programs. Afterschool Alliance.

Loucks-Horsley, S., Stiles, K. E., Mundry, S., Love, N., & Hewson, P.W. (2010). Designing professional development for teachers of science and mathematics (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

National Research Council. (2011). Successful K-12 STEM education: Identifying effective approaches in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Committee on Highly Successful Science Programs for K-12 Science Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

National Research Council. (2012). A framework for K-12 science education: Practices,
crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Committee on Conceptual Framework for the New K-12 Science Education Standards. Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

National Research Council. (2015). Identifying and supporting productive programs in out-of-school settings. Committee on Successful Out-of-School STEM Learning, Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Science and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Nee, J., Howe, P., Schmidt, C., & Cole, P. (2006). Understanding the afterschool workforce:
Opportunities and challenges for an emerging profession. National Afterschool Association for Cornerstones for Kids.

Noam, G., & Sneider, C. (2010). Common goals, common assessments: Evaluation guidelines for youth programs. Unpublished manuscript, Program in Education, Afterschool and Resilience (PEAR). Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Peter, N. (2002). Outcomes and research in out-of-school time program design. Philadelphia, PA: Best Practices Institute.

Peter, N. (2009). Defining our terms: Professional development in out-of-school time. Afterschool Matters, 8(2), 34-41.

Sheridan, S. M., Edwards, C. P., Marvin, C. A., & Knoche, L. L. (2009). Professional development in early childhood programs: Process issues and research needs. Early Education and Development, 20(3), 377-401. doi: 10.1080/10409280802582795

Simzar, R., & Domina, T. (2014). Attending to student motivation through critical practice: A recommendation for improving accelerated mathematical learning. In S. Lawrence (Ed.), Critical practice in P-12 education: Transformative teaching and learning (pp. 66-116). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-5059-6.ch004

Tyler-Wood, T., Knezek, G., & Christensen. R. (2010). Instruments for assessing interest in STEM content and careers. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 18(2), 341-363.

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Vandell, D. L. & Lao, J. (2015). Building and retaining a high quality professional staff for extended education. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Vandell, D. L., Warschauer, M., O'Cadiz, P., & Hall, V. (2008). Two year evaluation study of
The Tiger Woods Learning Center. Report to the Tiger Woods Foundation. Retrieved from

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The Appendix for this paper can be found here. 

Published in Breakfast Club

Game jams are like a game about making a game. Participants meet in out-of-school spaces to create a game in either one day or over a weekend. Often, game jams center on a theme. For example, in spring 2016, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) organized a climate-themed game jams about water. The topic of water was part of a White House call to action regarding building a sustainable water future. I helped facilitate the climate jam held in New York City. Students met at BrainPOP's headquarters on a Saturday afternoon. While there, they created games using free design tools, like Scratch, from the MIT Media Lab. To learn more, visit Climate Game Jam.

Last year I began to volunteer with the Moveable Game Jam initiative, a series of student game jams that—as the name implies—move about different locations in the New York City area. The first Moveable Game Jam I attended was held on a Saturday afternoon at the Quest to Learn, a school in New York City co-founded by the Institute of Play. And this year we are teaming up with the nonprofit Games for Change, which will run the Moveable Game Jams as part of its Student Challenge program!

How to Host a Game Jam

In a game jam event, begin in a common space with all participants present. Start with a brief, whole-group warm-up. We often use one of the 3 activities in the Moveable Game Jam guide: 1) Hacking tic-tac-toe; 2) Using a part of your body as a game component; and 3) Using everyday objects—like cups and rubber bands—as playful objects. The idea is to get everyone familiar with the parts of a game's system: goal, rules, components, core mechanics—or actions of play, and the space games are played. In tic-tac-toe the goal is 3 X's or O's in a row; the rules include the game being turn-based, with one letter per space; the components are paper and pencil; the core mechanics are drawing X's and O's and blocking other moves; and the space is the grid. After this discussion we then ask students to add a rule or drop a rule to the tic-tac-toe, or to make it a 3-player game. The idea of the warm-up is to get everyone familiar with game-based literacy. A colleague of mine likened it to teaching the rule-of-thirds or lighting to a photography student. You wouldn't just give someone a camera and expect him or her to take perfect wedding photos!

Climate Game Jam pic

The main part of the game jam takes place in smaller groups. We create a menu of 3-4 activities, running a couple of hours each. Students self-select where to go, and then rotate at some point. You should have at least one facilitator per room, and each game design tool should be different. For example, try the free digital game application like Gamestar Mechanic, or the interactive fiction authoring tool Twine or inkleWriter. Also have an analog—or tabletop board game station. Or try a fully nondigital game station, like modding (changing the rules) of musical chairs.

At the conclusion of a game jam, every team should share-out their games. This helps focus students on a goal to complete a prototype in the allotted time. At Moveable Game Jams we find that students who arrive in the morning as strangers leave as friends! It is a fun day for all: students, facilitators, and educators. After all, play is what occurs within the structure of a game. For more on the Moveable Game Jam activities you can run in your out-of-school program, check out our Moveable Game Jam Guide.


For breakfast, I had french toast and turkey bacon, with coffee. Lots of coffee!

Published in Breakfast Club

The third issue of the Journal of Expanded Learning Opportunities (JELO) has arrived! This spring issue launched at the 2016 BOOST conference and features a conversation about quality programming in afterschool, an article on the role that social emotional learning can play to close the achievement and learning gaps, and an article focusing on the links between professional development and quality STEM learning experiences. You can visit last week's installment about social emotional learning and today, we invite you into a researcher and practitioner conversation.

The expanded learning field continues to bring multiple stakeholders together to advance program quality and research. In this issue of the JELO, we talk to Carol McElvain, J.D. from the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Michael Funk from the California Department of Education (CDE) about their ideas on program quality in the expanded learning field. Ms. McElvain is the Managing Technical Assistance Consultant at AIR. She directs AIR's expanded learning work, focusing on providing research-based, high-quality training, and professional development, and disseminating research results and policy reports to diverse audiences in the public education sector throughout the country. Mr. Funk is Director of the After School Division (ASD) at CDE. He led the development of a strategic plan for the ASD, building upon expanded learning to create programs that maximize outcomes for youth, families, school, and communities. This work led to the development and implementation of California's Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs in 2014. Prior to his current work at CDE, Mr. Funk was the founder and executive director of the Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center in San Francisco for two decades. He also started Experience Corps and Aspiranet Oakland Afterschool.

Ms. McElvain is representing the researcher perspective and Mr. Funk is representing the practitioner perspective. Following their responses below, both Ms. McElvain and Mr. Funk share their reflections on each other's perspectives, revealing a common vision to move the great work of this field forward.


Many states have developed and adopted quality standards for expanded learning programs. What value do these standards bring to the expanded learning field?

Michael: California's quality standards are the North Star for program quality. They give us a common vision and common language. This is critical if we are to maximize the unique scale of our state's expanded learning ecosystem. The standards make it possible to align the state's system of support, policy decisions, funding process and statewide evaluation. Of course, that alignment requires disciplined intentionality at all levels and is very hard work. That hard work is taking place in California right now. The implementation of the Expanded Learning Strategic Plan is underway, and the first and most critical step was the development of the Quality Standards for Expanded Learning.

California's quality standards go one step further and include the "standards in action" which describe what the standard looks like at the program, student, and staff levels. This makes the standards incredibly accessible and relevant. Since the California standards have been released I have heard countless people state that, "The Quality Standards affirm what we value. The California Department of Education is endorsing what we have always believed quality programs look like."

The context and guidance for how the standards should be used is just as important as what the standards articulate. In California, we have specified that the standards be used for site level continuous quality improvement. They are not to be used as a compliance tool for outsiders to judge the quality of a program, for ranking of programs, or for assessment to determine future funding.

Finally, the Quality Standards tell a story. They are the base of a very important narrative that needs to shift. Since the early 1990's the Expanded Learning (afterschool) "brand" was primarily public safety. "Keep kids safe and off the streets." Gradually, the importance of childcare for low-income families and homework completion became part of the narrative. What we now know is that high-quality expanded learning opportunities are an engaging place of learning that is an integral part of a young person's education, preparing them for college, career and life. We need to position expanded learning programs as a place of learning. To that end, my office has just launched the Expanding Student Success campaign. At the heart of the effort is a direct line of communication between K-12 education leaders in order to tell the story of the power of high-quality expanded learning opportunities. We would not be able to tell that story if we did not have the Expanded Learning Quality Standards in place.

Carol: Only a small handful (less than 10) of states are not in the process of either developing or adopting quality standards. In some cases, states that are not actively working on their own standards have provided a variety of options for programs to assess themselves, such as the NAA core competencies, or the Weikert Center's Youth Program Quality Assessment, just to name a couple, so programs can begin to look actively at their own quality and plan for improvement. While most of the states who have participated in standards adoption have built their own state coalitions to build their programs' values into their standards, a recent crosswalk of existing state standards showed us that there is enough critical overlap in the main areas addressed to state that there is essential agreement on what quality is. These areas include safety, staffing, human relationships and youth development, activities and activity structure, as well as program administration and family engagement. Several states have already undergone revisions or expansions to their standards to include more specific guidance to programs on areas such as social and emotional learning, diversity and equity, sustainability, and program quality standards for older youth.

The value of adopting, promoting, and training to quality standards is first and foremost that high quality standards in action provide the best possible afterschool and summer learning programs for youth of all ages. There are many other elements, as well. In training, I often ask whether anyone was given the job of running an afterschool program as part of several other responsibilities they had at the time, without much more guidance than that. I am surprised each time at the number of hands raised in answer to that question. Program quality standards help any afterschool or summer learning program (regardless of funding source) provide the baseline for understanding what a good program should look like. They help build common understanding, a language for staff and other programs to talk with and help each other, and provide a pathway for improvement and professional development.

Standards bring other benefits such as informing key decision makers like policy makers and families of the elements they should be either funding or looking for when looking at available programs.

What does a quality after school or summer program look like to you?

Michael: Notwithstanding my listing all of the standards in action to answer this question, what I look for first is youth and staff who are engaged. When you walk into a room you can feel it. It is palpable. What creates engagement? I'll take this moment to plug the Learning In Afterschool and Summer's five elements. Learning that is active, collaborative, has meaning, supports mastery, and expands horizons. These five elements constitute the foundation on which the California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning were designed. They are also easily understandable and relatively easy to observe. I also look for passion. Does the leader of the program have a passion for helping staff and students find their life's calling? Is it just a j-o-b or is it an opportunity to impact other humans in a way that is almost sacred?

Carol: I could go through a litany of elements of high quality programs but let's talk the essentials. When it comes to the critical part of a quality afterschool or summer school program, I look for programs that engage and respect youth and provide them with opportunities to develop their skills, interests, confidence, and provides encouragement for their growth and development. It's not a matter of the type of program or even the focus—it could involve recreation, STEM, arts, language or career development or really anything--it almost doesn't matter what focus the program has, as long as the basics of providing children and youth with the building blocks they need for success in life is present, the program is focusing on quality.

What do you think it costs to run a quality program?

Michael: The cost of quality is impacted by so many variables including the program's emphasis, the area's cost of living, staff to participant ratio and many others. The Wallace Foundation has developed a cost calculator that accounts for all these variables. 

I plugged the following variables into the calculator. The program had 100 slots, run by a community-based organization, located at a school, and operating five days per week for three hours during the school year. The staff ratio was 15:1 because that is the lowest ratio that they have data for. Then, selecting a city for cost of living the calculator gave me the following information on the cost per participating student per day to run a quality program.

JELO Article 2

There are more studies looking at the true cost of quality. One thing we know for sure is that the current California rate of $7.50 per day per student is well below what is necessary and, sadly, has not increased since 2006.

Carol: I wish I could give you a straight dollar amount, but it's going to vary based on local factors such as the goals, services, and structure of the program, average area salaries, what kind of staffing structure is involved in the program (volunteers, aides, certified teaching staff, youth development staff, etc.), the number of children participating and the ages, and whether transportation is a large factor in the budget, among other factors. Depending on the location and safety, for example, the budget line item for transportation might be the smallest or largest part of the budget with perfect justification.

A couple of things I think are highly important in developing a quality program are attention to who is responsible for running the program and whether time is built in adequately for program preparation and staff development. Over and over we have seen the value of a full-time program director focused on the development of and attention to quality in the program. While that's not to say that programs that do not have a full-time leader can't be of high quality, it certainly makes the job harder, because quality takes observation, planning, and development. Providing opportunities for staff to reflect on how the program is doing and get guidance on improving practices helps build a path toward quality, wherever your program is.

Think of the programs you visit. Do you feel the programs you see are quality programs? Why or why not?

Michael: If I am invited to a site visit, it is usually going to be a program that a school district or community-based organization considers high quality. It is probably the case that quality will vary from program to program in the same district or city and that quality can vary at different times of the year (or even the day) in the same program. The principle of continuous quality improvement means that regardless of how high quality the program appears, the work of improving things for our students and staff is never over. If I walk into a program that is obviously high quality, or into a program that is struggling, I am always going to ask the same questions: "How are you being intentional about improving the quality of your program?" "What influenced you to choose the area of focus you did?" and "What is your plan for improving the quality in that area of focus?" I am always more impressed by depth rather than breadth; therefore, any program choosing more than three standards to improve is not necessarily working harder at quality improvement.

Carol: I would say that for the most part, we see programs that offer a safe place and are run with good intentions by people who care about the youth and families in their programs. I know that sounds like I'm damning programs with faint praise, but I'm not. When I look at bullying, violence, and safety statistics for youth—particularly in the out of school time hours, keeping our children safe should be our number one priority. There are still too many children in this country who face going home alone every day.

That said, I also think rigid academic requirements or improved test scores that many schools and programs look for as markers of success have a tendency to make programs too uncreative and boring for too large a number of kids, particularly in higher poverty areas or in struggling schools. Adherence to program funding requirements without enough resources to adequately meet children's needs generally tends to lead to a rote program. Programs in that mode tend to be overly directive and rule-driven, and may not take families' needs into account. I really think this is because this is the best a lot of programs can do with the resources they are provided.

However, that is not to say that any community or program regardless of the level of poverty—urban, rural, sub- or exurban can't pull together to provide high quality programs for youth and their families. Some of the best programs we see are ones that honestly assess their resources and assets and provide support through youth and adult programming, job training, professional development time for staff, and a strong link to the school day. Focusing on the critical element of paying attention to youth and supporting them as they develop their interests, confidence, and skills goes a long way toward helping youth come to (and stay in) school, and where they can get more support to develop their academic skills.

What do we need to do to ensure programs run at that quality level? 

a. What do practitioners need to do?

Michael: Practitioners need to implement the continuous quality improvement process as outlined in the California Department of Education web page.

Then, practitioners need to seek resources to help them with quality improvement. California has a robust system of support for quality. Don't go at it alone! Bring in a fresh set of eyes to help you see what you might overlook.

Carol: Practitioners need to study quality standards and really make a concerted effort to look honestly at their programs to determine where their strengths and weaknesses are, then look at paths they can take to work on improving their program. Looking to each other as peers to support each other (either through peer assessment or regular professional development) creates a stronger understanding of what quality in afterschool is and how programs can get there.

In trainings, I often tell practitioners that if they are going to pay attention to one thing, it should be attendance from day to day. This is not primarily because I think programs should be keeping track of this statistic for its own sake, but because I think daily attendance and its fluctuations can tell a program so much about how it is doing. The highest quality programs I've seen have a system in place where they follow up with youth and/or their families if attendance is off for more than two days. Often, these programs find out the real reason for not attending the program is something they can help with or help get the right people to assist. For example, a family may have lost its housing, or a local employer has changed its scheduling so that the program hours may need to be adjusted. Looking at attendance trends over time, a program might find that there is unchecked behavior or bullying issues in an activity, or just maybe that they need to shake up staffing or the activities that are offered to keep children engaged.

b. What do researchers need to do?

Michael: We need more researchers to tailor their work to inform quality improvement. We also need research for publishing and documenting the impact of the programs. Research should inform quality improvement.

Carol: We are thrilled with the recent focus on developing closer interim measures of youth success other than test scores in both school- and out-of-school time. Providing a research base for more effective models of this success would give policymakers and practitioners more options for how they structure their programs to be more engaging and creative, not just an extension of the school day.

As someone who works to apply research to the practice of running a high quality program, I would also welcome further dialogue about how to put research into practice in programs. For example, researchers could ask, "Where have we seen programs improve significantly from the process of going through quality assessment and continuous improvement planning?"

c. What do policy makers need to do?

Michael: In some cases, get out of the way! Policy makers and government agencies are starting to focus more on performance management than simple compliance. This shift is taking root across the country. We must help programs successfully meet the compliance requirements. If programs feel supported around compliance the leadership can more easily focus on other aspects of quality.

Carol: Policy makers at all levels need to take a much more holistic approach to what children need to be successful and provide funding for programs with those goals. Although saying "more money" tends to make policymakers roll their eyes, we also need to be frank that most mid- to upper-income range families who can afford to do so participate in the type of afterschool and summer activities that lower income communities need to "prove" increased achievement. Asking afterschool and related programs to directly affect test scores is too long term and depends on too many other factors to be the measure of success for programs. Are the children happy? Healthy? Made to feel like they (and their voice) matter? Are children provided with a variety of engaging activities to better develop their interests? Do they have access to activities in which their family's circumstances might not allow them to participate? These are important elements that funded programs can address that I think are an investment well made in our youth that our policy makers can encourage (and fund).

d. What does the community need to do?

Michael: Our communities need to come together to build partnerships that bring supports and opportunities to kids. The power of partnerships is often lost because people confuse attending meetings or community input with true engagement and collaboration. We need communities to build true partnerships and for each institution in the community to also commit to a cycle of quality improvement.

Carol: The best thing a community can do is come together and leverage all of its resources together and work toward a common goal—it can be as simple as raising healthy and happy children or as lofty as everyone in the community has access to a path to higher education. This is not to dismiss that bringing everyone together is easy: it's not. It is often difficult to get people to put aside their own interests toward that larger goal. It is possible, however. Whether it's a commitment to providing safe transportation to students so they can actually attend programs, or training a cadre of volunteers in mentoring or tutoring skills so regular program staff can pursue improvement and development activities, or providing language classes to parents who are new to the country to help them feel welcome—every effort a community makes demonstrates commitment to the children of that community.

Researcher and Practitioner Reflections

Michael: I really didn't know what to expect when sharing my responses and then viewing Carol's. How near or how far apart would our perspectives be? I knew how closely Carol has worked with the Afterschool Networks across the country so it does not surprise me that her comments are informed by wisdom and a clear passion for what is good for kids. I discovered so many similarities in our perspectives.

I loved that when describing quality Carol emphasized the importance of engagement and respectful opportunities for youth to develop their skills, interests, and confidence. We are so on the same page. She went on to state that the design and focus of the program are in fact less important than these kinds of opportunities.

Carol also emphasized that program staff must have the capacity to reflect on their program and get guidance on improving practice to build a path towards quality. This is certainly in alignment with California's Senate Bill 1221 that dropped a lot of old accountability language and now requires programs to engage in a data driven cycle of continuous improvement.

Here is one of my favorite quotes. "... I also think rigid academic requirements or improved test scores that many schools and programs look for as markers of success have a tendency to make programs too uncreative and boring for too large a number of kids." Amen.

Carol: When I responded to a series of questions thinking deeply about the afterschool and expanded learning field and quality programs, I had a moment of panic the moment when I shared my responses. Although I am very passionate about the field and our work, was I too critical? Too far removed from day-to-day work? What would a practitioner think about these responses? However, I felt instantly calm once I read Michael Funk's responses to the same questions.

I feel as though we are strongly reiterating one another from different angles. We both value quality and believe it is possible, with appropriate development and planning. Being intentional in that planning—that is, knowing your ultimate goals and aligning your decisions toward meeting them—is essential. It was great to learn more about how California emphasizes "standards in action," to provide additional guidance to move toward quality, and to reiterate how quality improvement is a process that is never done.

It was good to see the calculations of costs for a program based on location, and the reference to Wallace's excellent cost calculator. Even more potent is the recognition that current funding levels are not adequate for our children. I hope that can build a call to action for the field to bring to policymakers to invest in our children's participation in expanded learning activities because they know it contributes to a child's successful development.

What most impressed me, though, is that the respected leader of the largest state-funded afterschool and expanded learning programs in the country clearly stated, essentially, that engagement is key for students. He didn't say "finishing their homework" or "increasing their test scores on phonemic awareness:" Instead, he said he looks for whether a leader has passion for helping their staff and students "find their life's calling" and a path toward it in engaging and meaningful ways. That is extraordinarily powerful and it makes me glad to be part of a field that emphasizes students' pursuit of happiness.


For breakfast, Carol usually swaps between a big protein fruit smoothie to last me all morning, and Noosa yogurt with granola and fruit. And coffee. Lots of coffee.

For Michael, every morning it is a Peanut Crunch Cliff Bar. Boring eh? But on a special day it is eggs over easy, shredded hash browns and Tabasco.  Plenty of strong coffee and some crisp bacon.


In 2107, The JELO will publish two issues: a special issue in Spring and a regular issue in the Fall. At this time, they welcome the submission of papers for both the Spring 2017 special and Fall 2017 regular issue. Please visit the blog post from yesterday to learn about the call for papers for more details. The deadline to submit is August 29, 2016. You can also visit Central Valley Afterschool Foundation for more information. 

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