About the Out-of-School Time Initiative
The Out-of-School Time Initiative supports student success by providing high-quality out-of-school time experiences for middle school students of color, students from under-resourced rural communities and students from low-income families, thereby narrowing the opportunity gap experienced by those students and ultimately mitigating educational disparities.
Overview of the Initiative
The Out-of-School Time Initiative is one outcome of a generous gift left in the care of Oregon Community Foundation by Fred and Sue Fields in 2012. The Fields required that their resources be used to support arts and education and left Foundation staff and leaders to define what that would entail. Staff embarked on a year-long process to determine where philanthropy could make the greatest impact, how to build on the Foundation’s ongoing work in education, and how best to respond to community needs and interests. Through that process, we confirmed:
- The value of out-of-school time as a promising investment in promoting positive youth development, increasing engagement in school and supporting academic growth. Out-of-school time programs improve school attendance, boost academic performance and increase the likelihood of high school graduation and postsecondary success.
- The importance of focusing on key transition points for youth, particularly the middle school years. Middle school is a valuable time to counteract socioeconomic, geographic and racial inequities in student success, as earlier childhood interventions have ended and students have started making decisions about their own futures.
- The need to invest in the groups of students most affected by the opportunity and achievement gaps. Students of color, students from under-resourced rural communities and students from low-income families experience disparities in educational opportunity and achievement. This Initiative was one of the first times that Oregon Community Foundation specifically focused on these populations in grantmaking.
- That focusing on out-of-school time was an appropriate opportunity for the Foundation. Given the scale of resources available in relation to the educational system more broadly, and the lack of strong statewide investment in high-quality out-of-school time opportunities, it became clear that this was an appropriate area of focus for the Foundation.
Explore our findings relating to out-of-school time benefits in Initiative & program impacts.
Learn more about the Initiative's context in Educational disparities & out-of-school time in oregon.
As the Initiative was developed, Oregon Community Foundation took a broad view of out-of-school time in alignment with national experts like the American Youth Policy Forum, which defines out-of-school time as inclusive of “both traditional programs operating during afternoon hours and more comprehensive efforts that respond to the needs of children, youth and parents during evenings, weekends, summers and holidays by offering activities [and services] that help youth grow, learn, and develop” (Partee et al., 2006).
We also learned that while early research on the impacts of this programming often produced inconsistent results—i.e., some programs yielded positive outcomes while others didn’t—the reasons for these discrepancies were not initially clear (Durlak et al., 2010). Fortunately, emerging evidence indicated that those differences could be at least partly explained by variations in program quality.
High-quality out-of-school time programs ensure students are physically and emotionally safe, provide a supportive environment through positive relationships, offer youth opportunities to learn and engage with new content and build skills, and empower youth to be leaders in their own development (Ramaswamy et al., 2013). Increasingly, research is connecting high-quality out-of-school time programs to the development of social and emotional skills such as creativity, self-identity and problem-solving, which are known to contribute to the likelihood of success in school and life (e.g., Durlak et al., 2010).
As staff considered how to focus the Initiative and determined which programs to support prior to its launch, we identified three key components of out-of-school time programming, grounded in research about what makes these programs high quality and impactful.
Positive adult role models
Adults (and sometimes near-peers, older youth who provide mentorship) are the most critical part of any out-of-school time program. Positive youth development, foundational to most programs, is centered in youth-adult relationship-building. These adults are often staff, but sometimes can be mentors or volunteers with whom youth connect through programming.
Out-of-school time programs can partner with families to support student success in a wide range of ways, including giving caregivers opportunities to see their students participate and succeed in activities outside of school, providing homework help and school navigation support that eases the burden on caregivers, and connecting families with additional resources. Family engagement efforts are often how high-quality programs learn about students’ strengths, needs and cultural backgrounds, allowing staff to be more responsive to them.
Connection to academics & the school day
Out-of-school time programs are most likely to directly and positively impact student success when their programming connects to what students are doing in school and/or builds skills that students need to succeed during the school day. While it’s important that programs provide relief for students at the end of a long school day or week, they also often provide valuable homework help, project-based learning opportunities and other enrichment that supports in-school learning. Programs can also coordinate with school staff to encourage students and help them stay on track in school.
Read more about these Initiative components & their research base in our learning briefs on:
positive adult role models
These components may look different depending on the individual program’s context, goals and design. Some programs are tailored or responsive to the needs of particular student populations (e.g., girls or Latino/x students), some are focused on specific content areas (e.g., science) or more specific student goals (e.g., credit recovery or college/career preparation), and others center on youth development and/or bolstering social and emotional learning. The Initiative supports programs regardless of their content focus, type or model, resulting in an intentionally diverse set of participating programs.
As the Initiative got underway, we explored how best to understand and support program quality improvement, seeking both a framework and a process for doing so that would be flexible to in regard to the varying content and contexts of participating programs. We ultimately selected and adapted the nationally recognized, research-based Youth Program Quality Intervention and Assessment (YPQ).
Learn more about the why, what & how of program quality improvement in the Initiative in Improving Out-of-School Time Program Quality.
The Initiative aims to elevate and build on existing research into out-of-school-time programs. Its original goals were to:
- Close the achievement gap for students of color, students from under-resourced rural communities and students from low-income families by strengthening and expanding school-based out-of-school time programs that support student success.
- Bring attention to the critical middle school years and how out-of-school programs help students enter high school on track for success.
To achieve these goals, the Initiative employs the following strategies:
Engaging participating out-of-school time programs in a robust learning community focused on building program quality and capacity
The Initiative’s learning community is facilitated by the Institute for Youth Success at Education Northwest and centered in support for use of the nationally recognized, research-based Youth Program Quality Intervention and Assessment (YPQ). Using a combination of in-person convenings, webinars and informal supports (e.g., coaching calls), the learning community provides training and support for the full program quality assessment and improvement process as well as peer-to-peer networking and learning opportunities, professional development on key topics such as social and emotional learning, and program sustainability.
DOWNLOAD A BRIEF, PRINTER-FRIENDLY PDF ON DEVELOPING AN OUT-OF-SCHOOL TIME LEARNING COMMUNITY.
Providing multiyear funding to support out-of-school time programming and staff participation in the learning community
Participating programs receive three or more years of flexible funding, ranging from $25,000 to $60,000 per year depending on program size and model. Some programs have participated in more than one three-year cycle. In 2019, possible fourth and fifth years of funding ($10,000 annually) were added to sustain quality improvement efforts.
Since 2013, the Initiative has supported over 50 community organizations and schools in strengthening out-of-school time programming for over 15,000 middle school students across Oregon. Participating programs vary in setting, model and content, and include those focused on general youth development; science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs; culturally specific programs; and subject-specific enrichment or other forms of academic support.
Participating programs are implemented by community-based organizations, culturally specific organizations, higher education organizations, and schools or school districts. Some programs were developed locally, while others are part of national programming networks.
Programs are selected for participation through a competitive review process based on their readiness for and interest in improving program quality, as well as existing strengths in 1) serving middle school students of color, students from under-resourced rural communities and students from low-income families; 2) family engagement; 3) positive adult role models; and 4) purposeful academic support.
Providing broader leadership by sharing lessons learned, coordinating and collaborating with others supporting out-of-school time programs in Oregon, particularly around youth program quality improvement
The Initiative team (Oregon Community Foundation, The Ford Family Foundation and Institute for Youth Success staff) prioritize sharing information, coordinating and collaborating with other out-of-school time funders and stakeholders. This includes engaging stakeholders in the evaluation advisory group, in the process of selecting and adapting the YPQ, and through regular and informal meetings of out-of-school time funders organized and led by Foundation staff.
Institute for Youth Success staff have also helped to coordinate and collaborate with other funders and networks that have taken up the YPQ to use with their programs at least partly because of the Initiative’s investment in YPQ. This includes Multnomah County's SUN Community Schools system, Portland Children’s Levy and PGE Foundation.
Elevating middle school
Through each of these efforts, the Initiative’s focus on middle school also elevates its importance as a transition period for out-of-school time programs, intermediaries and other funders to support students. During middle school, students begin moving from childhood to adulthood, experiencing more independence, seeking out new environments and social settings, and beginning to define their own interests, goals and values. Adolescent brains are especially adaptive as they go through substantial development that makes them ripe for social, emotional and academic learning (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, 2019).
Over the course of the Initiative, many participating out-of-school time programs have expanded or strengthened their efforts to support middle school students. Learning community activities often focus on learning about middle-school-aged youth and the successes and challenges in engaging and supporting them.
The YPQ is designed for programs that serve middle school students (a similar tool is also available for the elementary grades). Likewise, working with out-of-school time programs, funders and stakeholders on evaluation planning and sense-making builds collective capacity to tailor evaluation to middle school-focused out-of-school time.
Strengthening the field
While not an original goal of the Initiative, each of these efforts is also intended to strengthen the out-of-school time field in Oregon.
As more programs participate, and more staff learn and grow together through the learning community, program quality increases. As the Initiative provides stable and longer-term funding to an increasing number of programs across the state, the field builds capacity to serve middle school students. And as other stakeholders learn through and coordinate or collaborate with the Initiative, the collective understanding of what works and what needs remain will grow.
In 2014, The Ford Family Foundation joined the Initiative as part of its efforts to strengthen youth development. As a funder primarily focused on rural communities, The Ford Family Foundation has augmented and extended the reach of the statewide Initiative to allow inclusion of a more robust contingent of rural programs. Together, grantmaking staff from The Ford Family Foundation and Oregon Community Foundation review applications, monitor grant funding use and oversee Initiative development.
In 2015, the Institute for Youth Success at Education Northwest joined the Initiative to facilitate the learning community and the program quality improvement process. Since then, the Institute for Youth Success has also deepened the capacity for peer support within the learning community and broader out-of-school time field in Oregon. For example, Institute for Youth Success staff initially delivered all program quality trainings, but have increasingly trained program leaders to facilitate trainings as well.
The Initiative team (Oregon Community Foundation, The Ford Family Foundation and Institute for Youth Success staff) work together to plan, reflect on and improve the Initiative, meeting regularly to discuss what we are learning and what we want to accomplish.
Read more of the Initiative team’s reflections on supporting out-of-school time program quality improvement in From quantity to quality: Lessons learned from an ongoing statewide initiative.
While the Initiative’s central strategies—flexible grant funding and a robust learning community—have not changed, certain aspects of the Initiative have evolved. The Initiative team has adjusted its design and approach as they build relationships with program leaders and gain insight into the strengths, challenges and needs of participating programs.
Responding to out-of-school time program strengths & needs
The Initiative’s learning community activities have intentionally centered out-of-school time program needs, experiences and perspectives, positioning foundation staff as learners alongside program leaders and staff. Input and feedback from participating program staff drive the content and approach of convenings, webinars and other resources.
As a result, program quality improvement supports have deepened substantially, and peer-to-peer learning and professional development opportunities on topics of interest—such as social and emotional learning—have grown.
For example, staff feedback has helped the Initiative team refine the Planning with Data workshop that programs go through each year. This workshop helps staff make sense of their self and external assessment program quality data so they can make targeted plans for improvement. As a result of feedback, the workshop’s content is now more supportive for participants, most of whom must take their initial plan back to larger teams for completion. Shifting to a train-the-trainer workshop has increased leaders’ capacity to facilitate improvement planning, resulting in more focused, manageable and meaningful improvement plans.
The Initiative team also:
- Shifted the grantmaking timeline to better align with the school year, which makes planning easier for programs.
- Increased the emphasis on readiness for and interest in quality improvement as funding criteria in response to realizing how challenging it was for programs to work simultaneously on expansion and improvement.
- Added a possible fourth and fifth year of scaled-down funding and program quality support, as well as coaching supports for all grantees to better help them adapt, embed and sustain use of the YPQ.
Shifting from the achievement gap to the opportunity gap & educational disparities
While the Initiative was underway, our understanding of the achievement gap was also evolving. In 2016, the Oregon Community Foundation board recognized that to succeed in our mission to improve the lives of all Oregonians (including through educational achievement), the Foundation must address gaps in opportunity. Our 2017 report Toward a Thriving Future: Closing the Opportunity Gap for Oregon’s Kids describes the opportunity gap and the students who experience it, and identifies out-of-school time as a key strategy for narrowing the opportunity gap and subsequent achievement gap, noting that “[we can] encourage K-12 academic success by ensuring all children have access to extracurricular and enrichment activities. High-quality enrichment activities can increase student engagement and academic success, build important social-emotional skills and foster positive youth-adult relationships” (Ruffenach & Worcel, 2017, p. 5).
While the Initiative already focused on students most likely to experience the opportunity gap, this Foundation-wide framing galvanized the Initiative’s focus on improving opportunities—in this case, high-quality out-of-school time programs—in order to narrow the achievement gap. More recently, the Initiative team has begun to reconsider even this framing, opting to include the phrase “educational disparities” to better reflect systemic barriers to opportunities and outcomes for students. This is part of an effort to reframe out-of-school time impact expectations and align more closely with out-of-school time practitioners and researchers who focus on measuring the conditions that support students as well as more proximal and meaningful measures of student progress.
Learn more about the Initiative's context & how our thinking has evolved in educational disparities & out-of-school time in oregon.