“What’s best for youth and families?” Director of Expanded Learning Patrick Duhon asked a room full of representatives from seven different cities, all of who came to Providence last week to learn more from PASA’s third annual City Symposium about how to build citywide systems of after-school and expanded learning opportunities for middle and high school youth. Attendees from Louisville, KY, Flint, MI, Cranston, RI, Jacksonville, FL, Richmond, VA, Milwaukee, MN, and Worcester, MA spent two days at the Symposium exploring how to build learning systems that work for their cities.
Patrick suggested cities, school departments, and community-based organizations should focus on that question when thinking about how to work together. “It’s not about what’s best for YOUR organization, or YOUR department, it’s about what’s best for the community; what’s best for youth and their families.”
City Symposium attendees benefit from PASA’s hindsight. Though now it’s mostly smooth sailing, we spent years in a planning process that involved every imaginable community stakeholder; went through the process of crafting a data sharing agreement with PPSD; and, critically, listened to what youth and parents wanted.
A highlight of Patrick’s presentation was when he recalled that PASA’s original mission was a dedication to arts and science. Panels of community members and experts that contributed to PASA’s planning process determined that the arts and science were the areas of greatest need, but when PASA involved parents and their students in the process, they almost universally called for sports programming.
We asked ourselves as a community, “What’s best for youth and their families?” This question led us to create the AfterZone, with programming divided into arts, sports, and skills (which incorporated science programs). Sports programming has consistently been popular with our youth, and had we not listened when the community requested it, the AfterZone would have neglected its most dedicated customers!
Because we learned how to listen to ALL stakeholders, including the middle school ones, we were able to build a system that works. As a result, we built a strong partnership with the Providence Public School District.
PASA learned the nuts and bolts of building successful learning systems, starting with quality. At the Symposium, PASA’s Director of Quality, Jessie Kerr-Vanderslice, outlined the six steps to building a high-quality system of programs, and gave the cities an introduction to our data tracking tool, youthservices.net. She also regaled us all with some “Zen and the Art of Quality” moments such as when she pointed to one of her presentation slides and noted, “this quality flow chart is a visual of my mind.”
Program quality is pretty deep, right?
Director of Middle School Initiatives Allison Quinn discussed marketing and branding the AfterZone to middle schoolers. “They might be 12, but they want to be treated like they’re 20,” she said. Students told AfteZone staff that they wanted to be treated with respect, “ ‘like we’re mature,’ ” she recalled. PASA listened, and incorporated students into every aspect of the AfterZone’s design, from the programs to the AfterZone logo. Students even participated in design focus groups, and their input shaped the look and feel of the AfterZone brand.
As always, the best part of the visit was when we all got out of the office and into the community to hang out with our number-one customers. When a guest from Cranston asked an AfterZone participant at Esek Hopkins middle school how he liked his program, he was met with an enthusiastic, “The AfterZone is AWESOME!”