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Let's Get Started!

Congratulations on your commitment to students and families! Now that you've decided to start an after-school program, you have some work to do. There are numerous benefits associated with starting an afterschool program. The Harvard Family Research Project has documented the positive outcomes of out of school programs in the areas of academics, social/emotional, prevention and health and wellness (http://www.hfrp.org/out-of-school-time). However, getting started requires a significant amount of planning and preparation. This section will provide information to assist you in your efforts.

Forming a Planning Committee
To strengthen your efforts in developing the program, it is important to form a planning committee. A planning committee will assist you by bringing knowledge, experience and a variety of perspectives to the planning process. It will also create buy-in from stakeholders. The associated groups, including the school, will have a greater interest in the program's success. This group will also be important in expanding your access to resources necessary in delivering the program. The size of your program will influence how many planning committee people you will need. Potential planning committee members may include parents, teachers or school administrators, local government representatives, park and recreation officials, church leaders, youth group representatives or other community members. Once you select and invite committee members to participate, you can schedule your first meeting.

Considerations for Leading a Planning Committee:
You may consider setting a schedule for your planning committee meetings. Your committee members may have busy schedules. Therefore, setting the meeting times and dates ahead of time will be important. You may also need to consider the schedules of your committee members when setting meeting times and dates. For example, school teachers and administrators will need to meet afterschool. You may also want to avoid busy times of the school year, such as the first few weeks of the semester or during assessment dates. Prior to each meeting, send out a brief reminder and agenda. Keep the meetings on task. Allow all members to voice their opinions. Designate a person to take notes. Be sure to delegate responsibilities as needed. After the meeting, send a brief summary of any decisions and follow-up items. Stay positive as much as possible and thank the committee for their input and work.

Needs Assessment
Once your committee is formed, your group should assess the needs of your population. First, you should review any recent needs assessments completed in your community or school. If there hasn't been a recent assessment, you can conduct your own.
This assessment can include:
*Brainstorming your top reasons for wanting an afterschool program.
*Identify current programs and identify what needs are/are not being met.
*Surveying the school, parents, students and community members to determine needs.
A sample needs assessment can be found at www.beyondthebell.org/StartupGuide.pdf. (Tool 4) A complete needs assessment will move you in the direction of the next step, building a vision.

Building a Vision
Based on the results of your needs assessment, your planning committee can collaborate to build a vision for your program. The following questions may be useful for your discussions (Leading After-School Learning Communities What Principals Should Know and Be Able to Do http://www.naesp.org/). Further information on these topics will be provided in various sections of this website.
*What are your objectives?
*Whom will your program serve?
*How will you structure your program?
*Where will you house your program?
*How will you pay for your program?
*How will you evaluate your program?
*How will you integrate your program into your school's vision and mission, if applicable?
A five-step visioning process worksheet can be found at www.beyondthebell.org/StartupGuide.pdf (Tool 8). Building a vision will keep you focused in your decision making. Keep in mind decision making is on-going and you will be continually making adjustments as your program evolves. For this reason, it is recommended that your committee meets on a regular basis. Your vision may change over time to meet the needs of the program and students.

What Type of Program?
There are various types of after-school programs. Quality programs often provide a wide variety of activities to meet the interests of diverse student populations. However, it is a good idea to have a primary focus. Your planning committee may consider many different options: Academic Enrichment, Academic Improvement (Homework help, Tutoring), Activities for English Language Learners, Activities for Truant, Expelled or Suspended Students, Art Education, Career or Job Training, Community Service or Service Learning, Drug Violence Prevention, Counseling and Character Education, Mentoring or Recreation.

For a description of the many faces of afterschool, visit www.beyondthebell.org/StartupGuide.pdf.
If you haven't already hired a program director, the type of program you offer will influence your decision in the hiring process. It will be important to find a candidate with the knowledge and experience needed to meet the needs of your program. For more information on hiring a director, see the section STAFFING YOUR PROGRAM.

Costs and Funding Sources
Your committee will need to consider the costs of running an afterschool program. The Costs Elements Tool (Tool 14) at www.beyondthebell.org/StartupGuide.pdf is a useful resource to determine what your costs will include. Also, a Budget Worksheet (Tool 15) will assist you in generating an itemized list of expenses and potential funding sources.

Grants:
Some programs rely on grants to cover program costs. The following websites are resources for afterschool grants:
www.afterschool.gov: This site provides federal funding sources, grant writing tips and information on how to finance and sustain your program.
www.afterschoolalliance.org:This site provides a funding database, grant writing tips, expert advice on funding issues, sponsorship ideas, and resources on partnerships.
www.grants.gov: This site provides information and links to over 1,000 grant programs, articles, reports and information on planning strategies.
www.financeproject.org: This site provides information on federal funding, sustainability planning and resources for education and youth programs.
www.wallacefoundation.com: This site includes an online calculator to determine the costs of a variety of options for high-quality out-of-school time programs. 
www.education.ne.gov/21stCCLC: This site provides information on the Nebraska 21st Century Community Learning Centers, a federally-funded competitive grant program that supports establishment of community learning centers targeting schools in which at least 40% of the students qualified to receive free or reduced-cost meals.

Partnerships:
In addition to grants, your committee should consider contacting local organizations, businesses, churches, clubs, community colleges, universities as well as your own school and other schools (high schools, private schools). You may be able to develop partnerships that will not only assist financially, but will also enhance your programming and community involvement.

Food service:
Depending on your hours of operation, your program may offer meals/snacks for students. If so, you should seek assistance through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) or Summer Food Service Program. Programs meeting the requirements can be provided a reimbursement per meal/snack. For more information or to get an application, contact Nutritional Services, Nebraska Department of Education at 1-800-731-2233 or 1-402-471-2488. The USDA website is http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/.

Fees:
The issue of whether or not to collect fees is complex. Each community and school is unique. The vision of your program will guide your decision on whether or not to charge families for participation. The following factors should be considered:

  1. Population of students: Programs with a diverse population may need to consider sliding scale fees and scholarships. This will ensure equitable access for all students.

  2. Sustainability: For programs without grant funds or partnerships, fees may be necessary to run the program and/or sustain the program.

  3. Creating "Buy In": Some programs require that families provide support for the program, whether a very small monetary contribution, attendance requirement or parent volunteering. This may impact the families' perception of the program and also increase family involvement.

  4. Licensing: The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services requires programs serving four or more children under the age 13 at any one time, from families other than that of the provider, for compensation, either direct or indirect. For more information on licensing requirements in the state of Nebraska, visit www.hhs.state.ne.us/CRL/childcare/CCC/ccc.htm.

You may decide that your program needs to rely on fees to cover the operational costs. Or, you may collect fees in addition to grants and partnerships to both cover costs and sustain your program once grant funds have expired. If you decide to charge, there are several methods of collecting fees:

  • Flat fees: This method is to charge parents a flat rate for student participation. The rate could be hourly, daily, weekly, monthly or annually. You may require parents to pre-pay. This is the easiest way to charge fees. However, you may find the fees cost-prohibitive, resulting in students being unable to participate.

  • Flat fees (with flexibility): Some programs choose to bill parents after the students receive services or set up individualized payment plans for parents in need of assistance. Some programs also offer discounts for subsequent students to assist families with more than one child attending. This is slightly more time-consuming for the program's staff/administration but parents may appreciate the efforts if assistance is needed.

  • Sliding scale fees: This method involves a regular rate (similar to the flat fee). However, you can offer a discounted rate for parents based on their ability to pay. The ability to pay can be determined through the lunch program status at the school, bank statements or other legal documentation, if needed. This method of fee collection may result in generating less income. However, you will be providing a more equitable access to services for students.

  • Scholarship program: This method can be used in addition to the flat fee or sliding scale fee method. Scholarships can be provided for students who would be unable to attend due to costs. Parents may apply for scholarships for students who would benefit from the program. Also, you may have the school's teachers and counselors recruit these students. Providing scholarships may require seeking additional funds to offset the costs or seeking fee subsidies.