There is no doubt that the federal 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) grant has impact on those that it serves. It is a viable government program. It’s big and requires a lot of investment of resources. It is not for the faint or unprepared. In Reach is going into its third year of funding and I have finally figured out how to have a sustainable and successful 21st CCLC program.
A little background. In Reach is going into its eighteenth year so I know how to have successful programs. 21st CCLC presented me with a different challenge as it allowed the organization to grow threefold and I had to practice managing, myself and others, differently.
In the first year of funding, grantees were provided with training and information on how to manage a program successfully but that year was such a challenging one for me that managing people took a little bit of backseat to a few other important adjustments like securing the funds. More experienced now as a 21st CCLC grantee, the one thing I know for sure is some things you truly must experience to perfect. In this order.
1. Surround yourself with the right team. I’m sure you’ve read this before. It’s true. So so true. If you do not have the right people – staff, contractors, partners – your work is going to be that much harder. Since I mostly work with educators and they work with students, my number one priority, its imperative to find the absolute best for the job. Just because an individual may teach in the daytime does not mean he or she is right for the job after school.
2. Train, hold accountable and provide feedback – in that order and continuously.
3. Observations – you can gather a lot by just watching, an awful lot. I cannot stress enough the value of this point. If you want to know how well your program is doing, just watch. Watch everyone and show up regularly to just watch. Even when you have a reporting structure in place, you must continuously observe everything and everyone – data, your staff, the students, families, and partners. I was told this in my first year. In my second year, I was able to better invest time in it which has greatly informed the shaping of my upcoming third year. For example, observing my afterschool instructors who are all certified teachers. At first, I was a little reluctant. I figured they work in the day time with the students they must know what they are doing. And for the most part they do but energy levels change by the hours of after school and so does effectiveness. It’s understandable but those I hire need to understand that if they do not have what is required beyond skill set then this may not be the right place for them.
As the founder and executive director of my organization, I am keenly aware of everything especially meeting targets for funders. I have learned that this must be communicated with the whole team often so that everyone can understand how important it is to move as a highly effective team ready to prepare students for college, work and life.