Information paints a picture: BAWSI Chief Executive Officer Jennifer C. Smith on the importance of data after school

Jennifer C. Smith of BAWSI (Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative) knows that getting an accurate picture of program attendance can shed light on, and help solve, a host of other issues

UpMetrics: How important is it for afterschool and cocurricular programs to monitor their attendance? In your observation, how much has taking attendance been made a priority for outside-of-school programs in the past?

Jennifer C. Smith: Taking weekly attendance and have an average weekly attendance target has always been a high priority for BAWSI.

  1. At an individual level — it allows us to see the child who is consistently absent. When we share this with school administrators, it prompts an important discussion about what is going on in that child’s life. Absenteeism can be prompted by family issues that include homelessness, incarceration, deportation, child abuse, domestic violence — in short, it helps us understand the children we are working with. Recently we worked with school administrators to understand what was happening, and together, we realized that girls were simply walking home to empty homes instead of coming to BAWSI. Their parents, who work two jobs, were not even aware that they weren’t showing up for BAWSI and neither did the school administrators. The bilingual school outreach staff member was then able to make phone calls to talk with the parents and let them know what was going on and how important our program is for their daughters.
  2. At an organizational level — most simply, when we have repeat absentees, we are able to free up a spot for a child who is on our waitlist, so we maximize our capacity. However most importantly, tracking average weekly attendance gives us a window into our own performance. We believe that if we are providing a fun, early experience with physical activity, through supportive, connected female coaches, our participants will want to come back week after week. When our attendance numbers at a given site trend below target, we investigate at a deeper level to understand why. We look within ourselves, within the school support system, and within the broader community climate.

UPM: What are some examples of the ways that attendance, engagement, and demographics data can be used to help show program effectiveness and value?

JCS: See above re: attendance. We also measure engagement by asking the participants if they would sign up for BAWSI again. This speaks to our performance — again, if we are providing a fun, early experience with physical activity, through supportive, connected female coaches, our participants will want to come back for the next semester of programing. We also ask the open-ended question if they believe all girls should participate in BAWSI Girls.

As of now, we don’t have the resources to track repeat customers, but by asking these questions we can get to the question of retention.

We do not collect demographic data other than grade level. When we speak to demographics we extrapolate from the overall school data, such as number of students receiving free/reduced lunch and ethnicity breakdown of the student population. This data is very important to explain to funders why we are working with the schools we are working with, why we are offering our programs for free, and why these children do not have access to other opportunities (linking to broader national studies.)

However, I don’t think these data sets are helpful in making the case for effectiveness and value. The data sets that funders want to see for effectiveness and value are outcome-specific—i.e., what did the program do for the participants; what were the changes in attitudes and behaviors that resulted from participation in the program.

UPM: Anything else you’d like to add about the proposed education budget cuts?

JCS: Like previous cuts, the children who will be harmed the most are the children living in underserved communities. Affluent, suburban communities will rally around their schools and raise private funding for extra- and co-curriculars. Charter schools have a development/fundraising function that will raise private funding to supplement in the same way. However, the low-income public schools sitting in pockets of poverty will have no resources to be able to make up for the budget cuts. Their students will continue to lose out and thus we continue to widen the gap between students without means, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

Thanks very much to Ms. Smith for the interview! You can learn more about BAWSI via their website, This was written by Cheryl Lala the UpMetricsData for Good.’

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