Partnership & Quality in Afterschool: the Essential Role of 21st Century

Do mediocre books leave lasting impressions on you? How about a neutral meal at a restaurant? For most, the answer to these questions is an emphatic “no.” Just like no author wants to be a “blah” author, and no chef wants to cook less-than-delicious meals, no afterschool professional wants to be so-so at his or her job. But, just like doing anything else well, running a top-notch afterschool program isn’t easy. It is, however, more important than keeping readers or patrons happy.

What could be more important than keeping our kids healthy, growing and engaged?

Across the country, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation partners with over 500 21st Century Community Learning Centers. Our goal: to help afterschool leaders infuse health and wellness into everything they do. From STEM programming to homework help, we know active kids learn better. Along with the national Healthy Out-of-School Time Coalition, we’re on a mission to strengthen afterschool programs and celebrate their success.

Here’s an example: Sonora Elementary and Sonora Middle School’s afterschool programs, part of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program, began working with us in last year. With the coaching of our Healthy Out-of-School Time manager Jonathan Wallace in Arkansas, Sonora afterschool staff have been able to champion healthy habits for nearly 100 kids. Candy is out and healthy snacks are in! Sonora Afterschool Coordinator Sarah Pruden says it is critical “to be knowledgeable about health so we can talk to the kids about it. When kids ask: “why can’t I have this?’ We need to have a good answer so kids understand why their health is important.”

The buck doesn’t stop here. Healthy afterschool goes beyond staff role modeling. From nutrition education, to physically active enrichment and family engagement, Healthier Generation staff like Jonathan partner with programs like Sonora to ensure healthy afterschool is quality afterschool. Given their focus on community engagement, 21st Century sites are important partners in the healthy afterschool movement. Across the country, we’ve seen these high quality programs integrate health-focused activities into their curriculum, such as teaching kids how to prepare a healthy meal while forging local partnerships with local grocery stores to donate spare fruits and veggies for healthy smoothies. Time and money are tight; quality programs like Sonora find ways to integrate activities to build momentum.

Students use NutriBullet blenders to prepare their own healthy smoothies at an Alliance for a Healthier Generation Healthy Out-of-School Time site

As the demand for out-of-school time program grows, we must all work together to ensure existing programs continue to operate. The doors of afterschool must stay open and the programs inside must be high quality. By implementing quality improvement efforts like the Healthy Out-of-School Time Framework, afterschool programs can join a movement of thousands of organizations dedicated to implementing national best practices for healthy afterschool environments. The movement is stronger when our efforts are aligned.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation and our partners are committed to helping program leaders access to innovative professional development. If you’re a 21st Century Community Learning Center and want to partner, we’re here to support you and celebrate you.

To learn more about quality partnerships, check out How Multi-Sector Health Partnerships Evolve.

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