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Wenatchee's 21st Century Community Learning Center Program = Results, Partnerships & Quality

by Danielle Baer | | Posted under Afterschool and Summer News

What does it take for a community to come together around a shared goal of helping children and youth thrive both in and out of school.  In Wenatchee, the 21st Century Community Learning Center (CLC) program has been doing just that growing a robust afterschool and summer learning program that is making a real difference for children and youth.

“In our programs, we have a philosophy that our families who are low-income and cannot access enrichment opportunities because of cost barriers deserve those same experiences for their kids,” shares Carolyn Griffin-Bugert, Grant Coordinator, who has overseen the 21st Century CLCs at the Wenatchee School District for the past eighteen years.   

The Wenatchee School District currently has three 21st Century CLC grants – the only federal funding stream dedicated to afterschool and summer programs. The grants support programs in five elementary and two middle schools serving a total of approximately 945 students; 77% of whom qualify as low-income, 70% Latino/a, and 27% migrant.

Wenatchee students building a bird house in their 21st Century CLC program.

A few things make these programs stand out, and help shed light on why Wenatchee continues to receive funding to support their 21st Century CLCs. 

RESULTS! From early on, Carolyn incorporated a rigorous evaluation component to the afterschool program utilizing an external evaluator who used a treatment and control design on student outcomes.  The evaluation design compares growth in standardized test scores of students who attend the 21st Century CLCs with those who do not. The findings – 5 years worth of data showing a very strong correlation between academic growth and participation in the 21st Century CLCs.

“After years of evaluating our programs, we can confidently say that the enrichment opportunities we provide through the afterschool and summer programs are important not only in exposing kids to arts, dance, field trips, and more, but we see these experiences connect directly to supporting student’s academic growth,” explains Carolyn. “We continue to get funding because we are tracking student outcomes and know these programs make a difference.”

The evaluation results tell us that afterschool and summer programs do not need to look and feel like the school day to see academic gains. Providing enrichment-based programming can in fact lead to positive academic gains while providing opportunities to discover passions, develop new skills, and be exposed to new experiences.  

PARTNERSHIPS! Over the years, cultivating strong partnerships with local organizations has led to great collaborations that bring unique and impactful programming to the children and families engaged in the 21st Century CLCs.  

The collaboration may look different depending on the goals and capacity of the partnering organization.  In some instances, Carolyn’s team may co-write a grant with a partnering organization to hire staff and bring programming into the school.  According to Carolyn, this is a win-win scenario because the community partner often has the expertise to deliver programming on a specific content or skill area, and the 21st Century CLC provides the structure, space, and access to a group of kids who benefit from a diverse array of experiences.

Other times, a partnership might look like the one with Campfire NCW where Campfire does their own fundraising and through the partnership they have access to a group of kids they want to serve.  From swim lessons at the YMCA to ice skating and bringing in retired community members as volunteers, finding ways to collaborate that benefit all partners, and most importantly the kids and families has been a positive outcome over the years.

Participating in an engineering project

As Carolyn shares, “More recently, through our partnership with the regional library we expose our kids to new exciting technology. The library received some new high-tech equipment that was mostly being accessed by more affluent families and they wanted to bring high-tech exposure to youth throughout the community.  We invited the library to bring this new program to the schools and through our partnership are providing this resource in our afterschool program.”

QUALITY! All 21st Century CLCs as part of their grant funding participate in the Youth Program Quality Initiative in partnership with School’s Out Washington.  Carolyn explained that at first, taking on this new effort was “kind of a painful process.”  The first step includes an assessment by a trained, reliable external assessor, and staff were nervous about being observed. However, everyone’s outlook quickly changed.

The research-based, validated Youth Program Quality Assessment tool provides a framework and data to identify goals and an action plan to work toward improvement, with the support of coaching and training along the way.

“What has been the most important part of this process is the conversation sparked by the assessment and follow-up supports,” says Carolyn. “We’ve had conversations until 10:30 at night  because staff are so engaged in talking about what was observed. This process allows us to go deeper than the day to day putting out fires and quick band-aid fixes. I’ve really seen light bulbs go off as we talk about what does student voice look like versus an adult directing the activities. The YPQI process provides a formal mechanism to think about quality and is really part of the fabric now of how we operate.”

As with many programs, sustainability continues to be an ongoing concern. Even with all the strong partnerships, the Wenatchee 21st Century CLC program will still need to identify some major funding sources as the 5-year grants come to an end. 

Getting involved in advocacy efforts coordinated by School’s Out Washington has been helpful to educate policymakers on the importance of afterschool and summer programs and will be more critical than ever with 21st Century CLC funding at risk of elimination. 

It’s programs like these that tell the story of why supporting afterschool and summer learning benefits not only the youth, but everyone when it comes to building healthy, vibrant communities.  

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