Congressman Cicilline on Out-of-School Time

By Nora Fleming — May 27, 2011 8 min read
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While U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), now focuses on federal concerns on Capitol Hill, his mayoral work developing after-school programs in Providence, R.I., have been lauded by, and influential on, the out-of-school-time community for the past decade-plus.

Cicilline, a Rhode Island native, was elected the mayor of Providence in 2002 with the promise of turning around the city’s downtrodden neighborhoods, reducing the crime rate, and, importantly, reforming the city’s education system with a focus on building high-quality after-school programs. He launched the Providence After School Alliance in 2004, which, through public and private support, developed a citywide system for after-school focused on serving Providence’s underprivileged middle school students.

Today, PASA serves roughly 50 percent of the city’s middle schoolers at three AfterZones, or community campuses and centers dedicated solely to after-school programming. The city, PASA staff, and 70 community providers work together to provide the 1,800 students with substantive academic, enrichment, and recreational experiences outside the school day, four days a week. PASA has served 6,700 students to date and has developed some out-of-school-time programming for high school students in the past few years.

While Rhode Island has no dedicated funding streams for out-of-school-time programs, they are supported by federal 21st Century Community Learning Center funding, as well as significant private grants and $202,500 in city funding this past year, though next year PASA says they are expecting some cuts in municipal dollars.

PASA’s well-developed after-school programs, network of public-private partners, and efficient data-driven tracking system have also served as a model for many other cities that are trying to implement a citywide system for out-of-school-time programs. Nashville, Tenn., for example, recently established a system that strongly resembles the PASA model.

“What Cicilline did was really encourage collaboration and built a collective strategy around the community with a tone focused on youth development and sharing resources,” said Hillary Salmons, executive director of PASA. “He has a keen sense of using the existing strengths and assets of a community, and helped knit together a network of partners including the police department, the school district, and the city. His leadership was a galvanizing force behind the success of PASA.”

Cicilline, who was elected to federal office in November, continues to be involved in the OST realm, though he now works at the federal level. He spoke at the recent Boost Conference in California and at the expanded learning time conference in Washington I attended last week.

Here are Cicilline’s thoughts on his work in Providence, suggestions for developing citywide models for out-of-school-time programs, and hopes for federal education reform.

Q: Why did you place an emphasis on building quality after-school programs in Providence as a strategy in closing the achievement gap for underprivileged children? What components are essential for good after-school programs, particularly to meet the needs of at-risk students in the 21st century?
A: My passion for after-school activity grew out of recognition that young people did not have safe and enriching places to be when not in school. I saw that children are most vulnerable during the hours of 3 and 6 pm—they were more likely to commit crimes, become victims of crime, or fall prey to dangers of teen pregnancy, drugs, and substance abuse. In Providence, we focused on building a system for all kids, beginning with the middle school age group with the fewest programs and the greatest need in Providence. We understood that program quality and connecting youth to caring adults were top priorities, because they are key to participation and achieving positive youth outcomes.

Q: What can cities that want to build citywide after-school systems take from Providence’s lead, such as lessons learned—good and bad—on most successful strategies for building a city-supported OST system? Why, in your opinion, is a citywide OST model more effective and impactful?
A: Creating a meeting environment where people come together on equal footing is critical because it sends the message that they will have the full support of the city behind them. It demonstrates first-hand to our partners what a priority it is for the city and for me. An important part of leading this effort has been choosing the right people to operate it and staying close to youth and parents as customers—listening to what they are telling us. A key lesson I’ve learned in leading this work is that in getting constituencies on board with this effort, it is critical to make sure they understand how what we’re doing is part and parcel with their own organization’s mission. Taking the time to gain real trust and buy-in—even within our own city departments—was a practical solution for reaching our goal of creating a sustainable system of out-of-school-time programming.

As a final point, you really cannot exaggerate the power of optimism. When something is totally new, there is always tremendous uncertainty about whether things will actually come together. It was my job to express how certain I was that the whole experiment would work; I never missed an opportunity to speak publicly about the citywide after-school program we were building, what it was going to look like, and what it was going to mean to our children and families. One of the most notable aspects of the system we developed is that it is decentralized. The system leverages resources, avoids duplication, maximizes public and nonprofit resources.

Q: How have your experiences turning around schools in Providence and building strong after-school programs influenced your efforts in the federal legislature to reform our education system?
A: As mayor, I visited a different school each month to meet with teachers and principals, to walk the same halls and sit in the same classrooms as our children, to see first-hand all that influences the learning of our children each day. Educating our children is about maintaining safe and modern facilities; ensuring our teachers have the support they need to excel in the classroom; making certain principals have the tools they need to be great leaders; and developing the partnerships that are critical to providing high-quality, high impact learning and programming during the school day and after. I bring to Congress the understanding of the financial challenges facing our school districts

Q: How can we expand the reach of these programs to meet the needs of more kids, given the enrollment caps and funding barriers many face? What efforts would you like to see on the part of cities, states, and the federal government to do this?
A: In the most straightforward of terms, strong education systems—including classroom hours and out-of-school time—require strong partnerships. We cannot rely solely on one source of funding, be it public or private dollars. In Congress, I am working to ensure that at the federal level we maintain important investments in OST, but at the same time, every level of government must be working with our partners in the private sector to develop, implement, and maintain robust after-school initiatives. And we can expand the reach of OST programs, in part, by demonstrating the economic imperative involved in this work. By providing our youth with the tools they need in the classroom and out, we are helping to strengthen the pipeline of skilled learners and workers to compete in the global economy.

Q: What are your thoughts on building sustainable funding for out-of-school-time programs, other than using public dollars? What suggestions do you have for cities and schools to build private partnerships for OST programs that can result in additional funding, particularly in today’s financial climate?
A: In my role as an elected official, I used the “power of the mayor’s office” to pitch for funding, convene potential partners, distance the program from politics, choose the right people to run it, get constituencies on board, and make city resources available to support the programming. Initially, probably the most important job I had was to make the pitch for funding, but after we were fortunate enough to be given a major gift from the Wallace Foundation, which was then followed by a million-dollar lead gift from Bank of America.

Q: : Have you been supportive of recent efforts to use federal dollars for expanding the school day at low-performing schools?
A: We are all stakeholders in the education of our children—parents, educators, public officials, and employers—so we all have a role to play in ensuring that we accelerate student achievement, particularly in our low-performing schools. Federal dollars should support a menu of options for improving our schools, but that menu must be informed by local partners, based on local conditions. For some states and districts, expanded learning time or enhanced after-school programming may be one of several necessary components for success. At the federal level, we must maintain investments in programs like the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative, so that educators and partners on the ground in our cities, towns, and school districts have access to the resources they need to guide improvement in learning.

Q: What education reforms would you like to see in the reauthorization of ESEA?
A: Congress must make the most of this opportunity to learn from both the successes and the shortcomings of NCLB. I am heartened by some of the objectives the Department of Education identified more than one year ago in their Blueprint for Reform. In order to succeed as a nation in this global economy, we must have an education system that ensures our children are college- and career-ready. This work requires that we have effective teachers and principals, that we are setting and achieving the right goals for our students, and that we provide the resources and incentives to advance achievement. But it also requires that we take the most holistic view possible. Congress must make certain that the legislation that funds primary and secondary education aligns our in-school and out-of-school time, enhances partnerships between our public and private stakeholders, and ensures our children are well equipped to compete in the 21st- century economy.

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline. (Courtesy of Congressman Cicilline’s office.)
Cicilline with the PASA Flag Football Team. (Courtesy of PASA)
Cicilline sails with AfterZone youths at the Mayor’s Regatta.(Courtesy of PASA)
Cicilline helps AfterZone students in the Young Inventors Program.(Courtesy of PASA)

A version of this news article first appeared in the Beyond School blog.

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