After-school programs often fill a vital role for children by providing safe, supervised activities to fill the time between the end of the school day and when parents and caregivers return home from work. After two years of studying evidence-based after-school programs in North Carolina and South Carolina, The Duke Endowment has committed $1.5 million over five years to help expand Citizen Schools in the Carolinas. This initiative is now closed.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of after-school programs operate in North Carolina and South Carolina. Their philosophies, quality and capacity cover the entire spectrum of possibilities. Historically, there have been few consistent, measurable ways to gauge effectiveness or outcomes for children and families. This lack of clarity and consistency also affects the fundraising ability of many after-school programs. Yet, such programs are often a lifeline, especially for children from single-parent or non-parent-caregiver households.
Because of its focus on children who have lost the support of their families or are in danger of losing that support, The Duke Endowment's Child Care program area became interested in exploring whether it could make a meaningful foray into the after-school arena.
In 2005–2006, the Endowment provided $160,000 to 12 after-school sites in North Carolina and South Carolina. These sites were operated by YWCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs, churches, schools and independent nonprofit organizations. The goal was twofold:
- to help all 12 sites achieve higher licensing standards and/or accreditation
- to allow the Endowment to learn more about the challenges and opportunities facing after-school programs
With 11 of the 12 sites achieving enhanced licensure or accreditation, the Endowment began to look at ways to engage the field in a more meaningful way. After study and reflection, the Endowment determined that it could make the greatest impact by focusing specifically on evidence-based interventions for middle school students.
Focus on Programs for Middle School Students
The after-school hours can be a particularly risky time for children in middle school. In homes where parent or family caregivers must work out of the house, middle school children can be left without supervision and are more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as drug use or sexual exploration. While there are many quality after-school programs for elementary school children in North Carolina and South Carolina, programs for middle schoolers are less common.
The Endowment looked for model programs that:
- serve middle school students
- serve a population in which at least half of the students display risk factors for child abuse and neglect
- have measurable impact (evidence-based)
- are sustainable and able to supplement limited Endowment funding from other sources
Citizen Schools — An Evidence-Based Approach
Citizen Schools, a growing national after-school program based in Boston is one of the few programs with a proven, evidence-based approach. It provides the "usual" after-school activities such as homework time and recreation activities. Citizen Schools is also noteworthy in its additional model apprenticeships in which students work with community volunteers on special learning projects, such as arguing a court case, publishing a newspaper or designing an urban park. Students are also responsible for completing a service project for their community or school.
Citizen Schools focuses on addressing common challenges faced by all after-school programs, such as staffing consistency. It works with AmeriCorps to split time between the after-school program and another nonprofit organization (often the school itself) to create a full-time position with benefits.
In 2006, Citizen Schools opened two school-based sites in Charlotte, North Carolina, with an eye toward expanding to 10 sites over the next five years. Each of the 10 current and future sites are Title 1 schools, serving a higher percentage of students who fall within The Duke Endowment's mandate of supporting children who have lost or are at risk of losing family support. Because of Citizen's Schools proven effectiveness and ability to meet the criteria established for this project, The Duke Endowment committed to support the expansion of Citizen Schools through 2011.