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New guide reveals how to improve after-school programs

The Forum for Youth Investment, a nonprofit action group, has released a new guide to help cities and communities strengthen and sustain quality in after-school programs.

Commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, the guide is based on decades of social science research on child development, teaching and learning, and organizational management, as well as the forum’s experience working with more than 70 after-school efforts around the country. It draws heavily on efforts in six communities to build systems to improve the quality of after-school programming: Atlanta, Ga.; Austin, Texas; Chicago, Ill.; New York, N.Y.; Palm Beach County, Fla.; and Hampden County, Mass. Each city’s effort is profiled in a case study.

The new guide, called “Building Citywide Systems for Quality: A Guide and Case Studies for Afterschool Leaders,” explains an emerging practice known as a quality improvement system (QIS), an intentional effort to raise the quality of after-school programming in an ongoing, organized fashion. The approach is based on what management gurus call “continuous improvement”: the idea that organizations should regularly take stock of themselves against a standard; develop plans to improve based on what they learned; carry out those plans; and begin the cycle over again so that the quality of their work is always improving.

“Millions of parents and guardians rely on after-school programs to provide their children safe and enriching experiences that build academic, social, and emotional attributes and skills. However, those benefits don’t come unless programs are of high quality,” said Lucas Held, director of communications at The Wallace Foundation. “This guide is the first to describe how cities and intermediaries can work with after-school providers across an entire neighborhood, city, or region to build quality system-wide, and it is part of our effort to share lessons nationwide about effective after-school systems.”

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