After School and Summer Programs: Beyond School Bells’ Mission Rings True

Afterschool and Summer Programs: What’s in a Name 

“Communities with strong afterschool programs turn the hours of risk into hours of opportunity,” said Jeff Cole, Beyond School Bells’ Network Lead.   

Today, Beyond School Bells’ mission rings loud and clear: to increase excellent afterschool programs throughout our state, particularly those serving youth in Nebraska’s most challenging educational environments. 

Just like its name, Beyond School Bells goes beyond simply supporting quality afterschool programs. Throughout the past 17 years, this program’s driving force has been to facilitate state and local policies and practices to engage youth in hands-on learning experiences, support their families, and create safer and stronger communities across Nebraska.  

ELOs: What are Those?  

Expanded Learning Opportunities (or ELOs) are school-based and community-powered youth-development initiatives that take place outside of the traditional school day. ELOs include before-and afterschool, and summer programs. 

Beyond School Bells’ dedication to high-quality ELOs goes beyond supporting learning-rich, engaging educational environments for youth. Recent data from Council for a Strong America’s article, “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” found the hours of highest risk for kids to get into trouble are from 3 – 5 pm, when kids are left unattended. A quality afterschool program can remedy this issue.  

Meanwhile, Beyond School Bells continues to grow, along with its scope. In addition to supporting high-quality ELOs, Beyond School Bells helps provide technical assistance so communities can build community support, create innovative programs, and grow their own locally sustainable ELO initiatives.   

Back to the Future: Beyond School Bells’ Roots  

Beyond School Bells (BSB) launched in 2003 as the Nebraska Community Learning Center Network, and quickly gained national support when Nebraska became one of the first states to join the C.S. Mott Foundation’s Statewide Afterschool Network, which is now a 50-state network. Integrated with this support has been a steady growth in Nebraska public and private funding.  

BSB gained additional national support in 2011 with a systems-building grant from the Noyce Foundation to support ELO STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning which led in 2013 to the launch of BSB’s Statewide Coalition of Community-based ELO programs, providing support and networking opportunities to communities building ELOs across our state (see sidebar).  

This growth continued in 2015, when BSB expanded into the role of an ELO program innovator, with the launch of the Think Make Create (TMC) Labs ®, a BSB-designed trailer providing a low cost, engaging mobile STEM programming platform (see sidebar). In 2018, BSB greatly expanded its design role by helping to facilitate the Nebraska Department of Education-funded ELO Design Challenge, a lottery-funded initiative to support the launch of high-quality ELO programs in five underserved Nebraska communities.  

While much has changed at Beyond School Bells over its almost two decades of operation, a consistent characteristic has been its agility and nimbleness. Consequently, the program’s staff has grown to reflect changing demands.  The team has expanded considerably in past few years to now include long time Network Lead Jeff Cole, Director of Community Initiatives Jennifer JonesDirector of Partnerships Anna WishartDirector of Think, Make, Create Expansion Doak Field, Director of Strategic Learning Anna Bromberg , Innovation, Design Consultant Max Cuppens and Curriculum Consultant Sandy Day.  This core group works closely with BSB’s partners to keep their growing agenda moving forward.   

Solving New Problems – Using Design Thinking to Chart New Ground 

Most recently BSBs work has focused on Nebraska’s ELO Design Challenge.  The Challenge included five communities and school districts considered “Afterschool Deserts” without any existing programs. These included Auburn Public Schools, Beatrice Public Schools, Boone Central Public Schools, Centura Public Schools, and Grand Island Public Schools. The goal of this project was to create high- quality, locally sustainable ELO programs in these underserved communities.   

The five ELO Design Challenge communities were successful in creating and implementing high-quality expanded learning opportunities and afterschool and summer programs. Each community tailored their offerings to meet their unique needs by developing and strengthening partnerships. 

Anna Wishart also pointed out that each location was unique in terms of demographic.   

“We worked with them to be successful beyond lottery dollars through leveraging funds. Lottery money is for a startup, but Beyond School Bells’ coaching is about leveraging funds,” she said.   

Wishart said that she and Jennifer Jones work hands-on with communities to create other ways to gather and maximize funding. 

“There are creative ways to do this,” said Wishart. “Beatrice has used Think Make Create Labs to gain funding from banks by putting their logos on the side of the vehicle.” 

She then said other accomplishments included that, building on their Design Challenge experience, Auburn competed to gain additional funding from Federal 21st Century CLC Programs.  

Last fall, the locations’ community leaders met to share their success and challenges as they undertook Beyond School Bells’ infrastructure. As the leads related their stories, Jeff and Anna helped them strategize for the following year.  

At the beginning of the meeting, Jeff said, “Afterschool programs suffer from a case of terminal modesty. We’ve need to raise up those voices so people will know they exist and that they are major contributors to youth development in these communities.”  

From hosting professional speakers to using a TMC Labs ® as a pop up learning platform at different locations to going on a Mission to Mars, the communities’ noteworthy successes have been compiled into The MAP Academy’s final evaluation report for the ELO Design Challenge grant and executive summary. These key findings will be combined with other insight and shared in an ELO Toolkit that BSB will launch in March. 

Looking Ahead: Nebraska’s ELO Innovation Network Signals a New Direction  

Building on this positive momentum, BSB’s newest initiative is launching the Nebraska ELO Innovation Network, an 18-month $800,000 partnership with the Nebraska Department of Education, with matching dollars from private investors in Nebraska.   

Through the Nebraska ELO Innovation Network, BSB will continue to develop and support existing ELO programs, showcase best practices, and incubate new community-based ELO initiatives. Key elements will include: 

ELO Design Studio  

  • Initiating new partnerships between BSB and key state and local organizations to continue promoting new approaches to starting and maintaining ELO programs 
  • Harnessing the creativity of college students to design, prototype, test, and deliver cost-effective, high-quality, sustainable ELO innovations for rural communities  
  • Exploring new approaches to ELO staffing and evaluation 
  • Piloting new networking opportunities to better connect communities  
  • Collecting, sharing, and distributing data showing ELO’s impact on students and 21st century skill development  

Centers of ELO Excellence  

  • Launching a new, one-year grant program providing financial support for high-performing ELO communities to share their best practices 
  • Incentivizing statewide centers of excellence in informal education to become more involved in supporting ELO programming  
  • Serving as part of BSB’s prototyping and pilot sites  
  • Contributing to a toolkit of best practices and other resources including coaching, mentoring, and video conferences 

ELO Incubator  

  • Launching a new, one-year grant program to provide financial support and expertise to communities without ELO programs 
  • Providing technical assistance tools and resources (including an online ELO toolkit) to support program initiation and sustainability 
  • Serving as part of BSB’s prototyping and pilot sites  
  • Facilitating opportunities to network and learn from Centers of ELO Excellence and other communities engaged in building their own ELO programs 

Key Partners 

From its inception, BSB has been a partnership-driven organization. For the ELO Innovation Network, many key partners will again contribute to the success of this important effort. The Nebraska Department of Education and 21st Century CLC Programs’ participation will help leverage existing investments in the afterschool field. The Nebraska Community Foundation will continue to help engage new communities across the state. Nebraska Extension will play a critical role supporting the Design Studio, as new program strands are developed and tested. The Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, a leader in ELO evaluation, will develop the new evaluation tools to measure the ELO’s impact on students, families, schools, and communities.   

Information and application materials covering the NE ELO Innovation Network are currently available at https://www.nebraskachildren.org/2020-elo-innovation-network-grants.html  Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis.  

Back to the Future: 2020 – A Breakthrough Year for BSB 

On top of its core work supporting high-quality, locally sustainable ELO programs, BSB has always been open to new program innovations, like the TMC Labs ®. True to form, they have several new and ongoing initiatives that serve as platforms for partnerships and future program growth. Some of these new initiatives include: 

  • ELO Toolkit: The team will launch a new online toolkit in March that includes expansive resources for communities seeking to start a sustainable afterschool or summer program, as well as layers of resources to help Nebraska ELO programs strengthen their current programming, develop local partnerships, and create sustainability.   
  • Conservation Management Summer Internship Program –This initiative demonstrates the team’s understanding of the importance of environmental stewardship for today’s youth. Three years ago, Beyond School Bells launched this collaborative internship program to expose high school youth to the diverse careers in the environmental and conservation fields. Through this program, high school youth participate in internships on six environmentally distinct sites across the state.   
  • Tree-a-thon: Along with community-based ELO providers, Mayors offices, the Arbor Day Foundation, Nebraska’s Natural Resources Districts, and the Nebraska Forest Service, Beyond School Bells will launch a statewide Tree-a-thon to plant 20,000 trees on Arbor Day weekend (April 24-26). The BSB team is looking for at least 20 communities with ELO programs interested in participating in this hands-on environmental service-learning project.   

Given BSB’s combination programming, partnerships and staff, 2020 will be a breakthrough year. We invite you to join us on this exciting, expanded learning opportunities journey over the year ahead. Stayed tuned to our blog and future Spouts for more information.   

Learn more about Beyond School Bells  

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Nebraska Children and Families Foundation supports children, young adults and families at risk with the overall goal of giving our state's most vulnerable kids what they need to reach their full potential. We do this by building strong communities that support families so their children can grow up to be thriving, productive adults.

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Posted in Middle Childhood, News and Events, Teen/Early Adulthood

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