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Built to create a citywide support system for Chicago's after-school programming, the Out-of-School Time Project is a program housed at the city's Department of Family and Support Services. The Project was started in 2006, when Chicago was chosen by the Wallace Foundation as one of five cities to receive funding to create a stronger, sustainable public after-school system. Not unlike an industry coalition or nonprofit association, the Project brings together leaders from the city's after-school providers and works to create technical assistance and professional development opportunities meant to benefit all programs.
Through the following key initiatives, the Project is working to address challenges currently facing urban teens and maximize their opportunities for success through out-of-school time programs:
Citywide Program and Participant Database: Reliable, detailed, and timely information is the key to smart decision-making. But Chicago's after school suppliers haven't been able to gather data on questions such as which programs are in demand and whether youth regularly attend sessions. And the little available information was not accessible across organizations with similar goals.
Leadership Team: For the first time, multiple levels of staff from the five Project partner organizations meet regularly to discuss their work and coordinate decisions. The deputy commissioner of youth services at Family and Support Services and the chief of staff for the Chicago Park District now can learn from each other through the Project's Leadership Team, for example, and local managers of programs that offer after-school opportunities across agencies network, build complementary skills and share ideas at regular citywide professional development events. Together, these Project channels are helping to establish an effective and coordinated after-school environment.
After-School Chicago Website: The Project's After School Chicago website (www.afterschoolchicago.org) allows parents and teens to see all available city programs across agencies on one easy-to-use website (including library, school, park and other program providers). The portal, launched in the fall of 2008, is searchable both by type of program interest and ideal location. The Project is also training operators at the city's 311 call center and staff at library branches citywide on how to use the locator to help broaden its program accessibility and the tool's impact.
Citywide Youth Employment Initiative: With the right structure and support, an on-the-job experience can provide the same advantages to a teen as an academic, artistic or athletic after school program, while also offering career experience and networking skills. After school systems, however, have not historically been linked to the state and municipal programs devoted to workforce development and high school employment opportunities. The Project is spearheading an initiative to link those objectives that intend to reach the same youth citywide. A multi-agency database, similar to the Program and Participant Tracking System, will facilitate coordinated job matching between youth and potential employers, as well as implement a method of tracking participants' work experience.
Incubation of Good Ideas: Through fiscal and operational support, the Project helps promising activities grow:
Expanding the ASM "Ladder of Opportunity" After School Matters is a national leader in innovation around quality after school programming for teens. With the Project's assistance, ASM has improved and expanded its "Ladder of Opportunity" apprenticeships and internships, and now is working to share the lessons learned with the system providers.
Building public support for after school funding With support from the Project, Metropolis 2020 (www.chicagometropolis2020.org) provides a forum for key state and local public and private after school stakeholders to work together around legislation and public affairs for increased support for after school program funding.
Understanding and increasing teen participation The Project and its partners have used documented feedback from senior local leaders to implement a comprehensive communications strategy to inform hard-to-reach teen demographics about the various out-of-school time opportunities available to them. A hallmark of this approach is the use of social branding techniques to harness this understanding about what motivates teens to participate (or not) in after school programming. The Project aided and facilitated this initiative with its toolkit and training sessions.
Supporting program quality: A program improvement initiative is helping strengthen the effectiveness of local after school programs throughout Chicago. With help from the Project, using the results of observation-based program assessment tools custom developed for Chicago's programs, the Project sponsors a variety of capacity-building supports to increase the reach of programs successfully engaging youth and supporting their successes in life.
Download the Out-of-School Time Project broadside