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Voices from the Field: Reflections on Quality Improvement

by School's Out Washington | | Posted under Opinions, School's Out News

The best afterschool programs create safe, supportive, and productive environments for young people. The School Age Program Quality Initiative (SAPQI) is based on positive youth development research and is committed to improving the quality of interactions for young people with the highest needs.

As part of this initiative, programs conduct self-assessments using a tool developed by the Weikert Center for Youth Program Quality. Programs then use data to make sense of where their strengths and areas for improvement lie, and set goals tied to the observable measures in the assessment. SAPQI then supports programs in reaching those goals with on-site coaching and methods trainings.

The Community Day School Association (CDSA) based in Seattle has been a leader in this commitment. CDSA’s goal has been to create an organizational environment where quality is key, and youth are at the center of activities. The SAPQI is grounded in the belief that program staff are key to ensuring young people’s needs are met and learning is encouraged – creating spaces where youth can thrive. CDSA has been a trailblazer in this movement by launching the SAPQI at all nine of their sites – assessing, planning, and improving the experiences of youth across Seattle.

Below we hear directly from Darlene Guerrero, Director of Operations at CDSA, about their experience participating in SAPQI.


What are some of the outcomes from CDSA’s engagement in the SAPQI process? What are some changes you have observed both in how staff work with youth and how youth participate in programs?

Nearly all of our program staff have shared that they find the SAPQI process easy to use and manage. All of our site leadership, including our Center Directors and Lead Enrichment Teachers have reviewed their site score reports (internal and external assessments) with the other staff members. Using the data from these reports has prompted them to examine program curricula and activities more closely to identify whether their program includes components intentionally designed to impact the measured outcomes.

We often hear from our Enrichment Teachers that they are not always certain about what their scores mean and that they struggle with interpreting a “good” score versus a “bad” score. However, we have noticed an increase in our score outcomes since the first year we participated in the process. We also understood that our first year created a baseline. We are in our second official year using the tool so we are beginning to understand the longitudinal results for each of our programs.

We would love to continue to participate in the community partnerships with other organizations and also be interested in reviewing community-wide aggregated data so that we can ensure that we are meeting the needs of our youth and work collaboratively with similar programs in the community to identify best practices and share strategies to improve program quality.

What were some of the challenges staff experienced with the process, and how did they overcome them?

Time: Of course there is always the challenge of time. We consistently heard from our teachers that they did not have enough time to plan, attend trainings and complete assessments. They felt like we were asking them to take on more responsibility with less (or no more) acknowledgement of that responsibility. Understanding that we also needed to get our teachers’ “buy in” we invested in offering them more hours of uninterrupted planning/training hours in their schedule.

With the support of their site leadership and coach we have overcome the feeling of being overwhelmed. Teachers are able to have meetings, planning, and trainings on a regular basis outside of their programming time to better prepare for the work that they do with children. This is not to say that we don’t have the request for more time, it is just to say that we are finding ways to acknowledge the amount of work that goes into offering high quality programming for our youth.

Student Interest: It was a big challenge in keeping the student’s involved and interested when we first introduced the process. The teachers needed to find ways to keep them engaged by keeping things fresh. Initially, we needed to bring in different activities into the programming day so that we could get “buy in” from them. We also needed to make sure that we had projects for them to plan and events for them to be involved in on a regular basis until they understood that their voice had power. Once we gained their vested interest, the process became mutual which made it easier to maintain.

Any other feedback for other organizations interested in getting involved in YPQI?

Take the process one step at a time. You cannot integrate everything overnight. Know that the first year that the program is introduced is truly a baseline and that improvement will happen as time goes by. Allow yourself the opportunity to make mistakes. It is ok to have a “bad” score. It does not mean that you don’t have a high quality program, it just means that there are areas for improvement. But most of all, HAVE FUN!!!

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