Washington state is working to narrow the opportunity gap by ensuring that all young people - especially those furthest from resources - have access to quality expanded learning opportunities.
We all know that education continues beyond the school day, so all our state's young people should have access to these resources - after school, in the summer and throughout the year. High-quality expanded learning opportunities complement classroom instruction and parents' efforts with programs that build lifelong skills, improve academic performance, and inspire young people to discover their individual passions.
Expanded learning program staff help build stronger connections between families and schools, adding a network of caring adults who are aware of young people's daily lives and the challenges they may be facing. High quality programs also help young people develop social-emotional skills and build trusting relationships.
Grounded in the strengths and needs of communities, expanded learning programs are particularly powerful for historically underserved populations. If we want to narrow the opportunity gap and help develop tomorrow's leaders, we must ensure all young people have equitable access to these programs.
Washington state is poised to do this by building on investments in early learning and K-12 to create a statewide system that promotes access to quality expanded learning opportunities.
What we've learned in talking to young people, communities and experts in the field is that at its heart, a high quality expanded learning program provides a sense of home and belonging that sets the stage for confidence, individuality and growth. Youth build strong, lasting relationships that encourage confidence, collaboration, work ethic, and individuality. With a foundation of trust, high-quality programs challenge young people to explore, lead, use their own voice and engage them in content that either connects with their schoolwork or explores subjects they are interested in.
There are four key pillars that must be in place for an expanded learning program to be successful.
- Safe: Quality programs provide safe, healthy and developmentally appropriate learning environments for all participants.
- Supportive: Quality programs respect and are responsive to the diversity of program participants, their families, and community.
- Strong Interactions: Quality programs develop, nurture, and maintain positive relationships and interactions among staff and participants.
- Engagement: Quality programs promote a sense of purpose and individual empowerment in youth through opportunities to engage in a variety of experiences, participate in planning, and exercise choice of leadership.
Research confirms that high-quality youth programs can make a positive difference in young people's academic achievement, social skills and risk reduction. Yet many programs do not meet the quality bar that leads to successful outcomes and need help to improve. We are delivering that help. We are working with program staff, policymakers, funders and young people to elevate the conversation about quality, and we are partnering to ensure organizations get the knowledge, tools and support they need to develop and maintain high quality programs.
The Raikes Foundation has invested in strengthening the quality of expanded learning opportunities in Washington since 2009. With the help of our partners, we have worked to change the conversation about quality, foster alignment around what quality looks like and empowered youth organizations across our state with the skills and resources to improve quality.
In 2016, the state of Washington, in partnership with Schools Out Washington and the Raikes Foundation, launched a pilot initiative working with fifty programs from four counties around the state to participate in a quality assessment and improvement process. The goal is to show that, with proper support, expanded learning programs can deliver the type of high-quality engagement proven to result in meaningful outcomes for young people. The pilot is working to create a streamlined system of support, including coaching and training for program staff on how to best engage young people. Hundreds of staff serving more than 75,000 young people have benefited from training, assessments and professional development designed to improve their interactions with young people, and infrastructure is in place to bring tools and techniques for improving quality to many more programs.