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School Year Data Confirms: Best Starts for Kids Grantees Are Strong, and Getting Stronger

by School's Out Washington | | Posted under Afterschool and Summer News, Best Starts for Kids OST, School's Out News

 by Lex Gavin, Best Starts for Kids Program Quality Coordinator

This fall, the Best Starts for Kids Out-of-School Time (Best Starts OST) Initiative is in full swing – youth across King County are engaged in music-making, robotics and coding, basketball, cooking classes, and poetry programs after school, in programs that provide academic support and enrichment opportunities.

Youth make music with WAPI Community Services

Now that we’re midway through the initiative, we have a full school year’s worth of data to look back on and learn from. A packed room of Best Starts OST youth workers came together at SOWA’s Bridge Conference to do just that. Together, we celebrated how far we’ve come and how much we’ve accomplished, shared some challenges and lessons learned, and strategized about next steps to keep raising the bar across the cohort.

Some of the data points that we celebrated:

But a key component of this initiative is that just having youth in programs is not enough. Especially for low-income youth and youth of color, research has shown that program quality is a game changer and can help level the playing field and provide equitable opportunities to achieve school and life success. This explains how Best Starts programs like, for example, Vietnamese Friendship Association builds on their literacy support to become “a family” for the recently-arrived immigrant and refugee youth they serve, or how Walk Away City Collaborative ensures that beyond crucial skills like money management, young people understand that they have strength of character to achieve their dreams. It’s high-quality Social Emotional Learning practices that address the needs of the “whole child”.

As a part of the Best Starts OST Initiative, programs are participating in a youth program quality improvement cycle (YPQI) – which aims to help programs understand and improve program quality through assessment, coaching, and professional development.

Now that we’re halfway through our initiative, we’re beginning to see some growth in program quality scores across the cohort.

From Fall 2018 to Spring 2019, the Best Starts OST cohort saw gains in many different areas of program quality. We saw gains in specific areas of the Safe Space and Supportive Environment domains, which set the foundation for high-quality programs. Warm Welcome (+0.18) and Encouragement (+0.17) contribute to spaces where youth feel comfortable and where they are able to learn and grow within a structured setting. Emotion Coaching (+0.27) focuses on helping youth learn to name and understand their own emotions.

“YPQI has taught me a lot…With the SEL tool things are dealt with more of a purpose in mind. The youth who we serve have a really hard time with empathy and a lot of that is due to them not understanding their own emotions. This tool has given us a guide to guide the youth to prepare them for the world they face.” – Best Starts OST grantee

However, the largest gains were in the domains of Interaction and Engagement. The Interaction domain is about building a program culture that promotes sense of belonging, collaboration, and empathy, and how program staff support that culture. Within this domain, our cohort saw gains in Belonging (+0.12) as well as Responsibility (+0.38) and Leadership (+0.16).

Building up Engagement focuses on structuring opportunities for youth to have agency in their own learning – through Planning (+0.18), Problem Solving (+0.18), and Mindfulness (+0.19).

The Birch Creek FEED Partnership puts their heads together as they review their SEL PQA data.

A key part of the Quality Improvement Cycle is that youth programs get to see their individual program quality assessment scores and use that data to identify key areas of improvement and set goals in those areas. Coaching and training supports from SOWA help them to reach their goals. Over the 2018-2019 school year, 100% of programs made gains in at least one of their goal areas, and 74% made gains in at least two goal areas. 

“The data gave us direct feedback of areas where we could improve and areas where we are doing very well in. Setting, monitoring, and analyzing goals proved to give us more of an intentional approach to our service delivery. For instance, a goal of ours was to provide youth the opportunity to reflect and we were able to implement that quickly and effectively.” – Best Starts OST grantee

“Not only is it helpful to identify areas of improvement so we can more effectively serve our youth, but it is also exciting and motivating to see the successes in areas of improvement and areas where we have consistently done well. The YPQI process helps provide a more focused approach for setting goals focusing holistically on youth programming.” – Best Starts OST grantee

Youth participate in STREAM Team programming at the Highlands Neighborhood Center.

We know that this high-quality programming is having positive impacts on youth across King County, data reported across our programs support that. In various Best Starts OST programs, youth are:

“We are on a whole new track and the [YPQI] process is placing our programming in a place where kids and their social-emotional learning takes precedence!” – Best Starts OST grantee

We know these positive results don’t happen overnight – they’re a result of dedicated staff who work hard to build safe, supportive, culturally-relevant places where young people can access exciting learning opportunities, explore their interests and identities, and build social and emotional skills. Over the next year, we’ll be focusing on capacity-building, peer learning, and storytelling.

We’re looking forward to continuing to support these strong programs over the coming school year into 2020!

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