New Orleans, LA – Community IMPACT Series: AfterSchool Partnership | July 27, 2010
As change has swept through New Orleans schools in these post-Katrina years, the realm of after-school and summer programming for local youth has also been a magnet for innovation and new opportunity, with hundreds of programs now active in the area. To make the biggest possible impact on children and families, this promising and diverse network turns to the nonprofit Afterschool Partnership.
"Youth don't experience their life in silos," says Dr. Lauren Bierbam, director of research for the Afterschool Partnership. "They don't think of their lives as home and school and social service provision and homework and etcetera. They just live it, they just do it. And our goal is to connect those dots among the people who work in those various different sectors so that the youth experience of all those different supports and opportunities is as seamless as it should be for them."
The organization doesn't work directly with students but rather functions as an intermediary for the myriad local programs that do serve children, helping them with everything from hands-on training for staff and program logistics to sharing national research on youth development. The group is also a voice for the local sector on funding issues in city hall, the state capital and Washington, D.C.
"Ultimately the work of an intermediary is to leverage," says Bierbam. "It's to leverage the support of multiple organizations, it's to leverage cumulative number of voices, it's to leverage public support and private support."
The work of the Afterschool Partnership covers the broad range of programs now active across the area. Some are school-run and others are community-based, some are new and others well-established, covering areas from music instruction and theater to academic programs in the sciences and athletic programs. The uniting goal behind all these activities is to tap students' own personal interests, help build their relationships with peers and adults and enrich their lives while helping them succeed in school.
"What we're working for at the intermediary level is to make sure that quality across the board is high and that youth have more than one option of high-quality program choices so that they can actually look at a menu and say this is my interest, this is my goal, and this is the program that's going to help get me there.'"
In addition to their core goals, programs supported by the Afterschool Partnership often provide some everyday basics of care that many local children just don't receive otherwise.
"For example, our public school population is about 87 percent free-and-reduced-lunch-eligible, which means they're getting breakfast and lunch at school and then generally a snack in their after-school program," says Bierbam. "What we know from teachers anecdotally is that kids frequently come back to school in the morning having not eaten since they left their after-school program in the afternoon."
The challenges before these children and their schools remain daunting but Bierbam says the network of afterschool and summer programs are making a big difference. As the evolution of youth programming in New Orleans continues, she says the future is looking brighter.
"Given ongoing resources and a couple more years, we're going to have the most phenomenal youth development system in the country," she says. "We'll be a national model for what youth development systems need to look like."