How rural public schools can benefit from nonprofit partnerships
For the Steamboat Pilot & Today
Editor’s note: This story is sponsored by YouthPower365.
After-school and summer learning programs aren’t just a place for kids to kill time while their parents work — these programs provide an environment where students can make academic gains, remain engaged in learning, stay physically healthy and active, and have access to positive mentors.
In rural communities, where one in four children live in poverty, there’s a strong desire for more after-school and summer school programs. Where need is greatest, however, resources are often at their lowest. This finding was supported by a special report from the Afterschool Alliance called “America After 3PM, The Growing Importance of Afterschool in Rural Communities”.
These communities often struggle with low wages, unhealthy eating habits, obesity and achievement gaps in school. An upcoming conference in Beaver Creek, Colorado, could create new beginnings for rural communities that have struggled to fund and implement such programming in the past. Hosted by the leadership of the Vail Valley Foundation’s successful YouthPower365 programming, stakeholders from rural communities will share their afterschool and summer program success stories at the PwrHrs Extended Learning Conference, including curriculum best practices and innovative partnerships.
Much of the success of YouthPower365’s programs can be attributed to its unique and close partnership with Eagle County Schools, said Melisa Rewold-Thuon, vice president of education for the Vail Valley Foundation. It’s these kinds of partnerships that make programming like this possible without total reliance on public funding.
“The partnership also eliminates the need for stand-alone buildings or rental spaces, which in turn eliminates the need for capital expenditures, and increases convenience and access for students and their families,” Rewold-Thuon said.
YouthPower365 has access to the school district’s buildings, technology, data and custodial services. School districts have to be willing to do “whatever it takes” to provide appropriate services for students, said Phil Qualman, assistant superintendent of student support services at Eagle County Schools. Eagle County Schools partnership with YouthPower365 directly benefits students by continuing educational enrichment outside of the school day, he said.
“We open up our resources and budget accordingly to come to the table with some skin in the game — we don’t expect (YouthPower365) to provide it all,” Qualman said. “They’re giving us access to a huge service, and we want to show gratitude and put in work, as well.”
The vast majority of funding comes from YouthPower365’s efforts, Qualman said. Part of the reason donors are so willing to contribute is due to the success of the programming. Once programs deliver results, the community responds, he said.
Building successful models
YouthPower365s formula for success is a two-way street, which means school districts should look to partner with local or regional nonprofits that have complementary missions.
When kicking off a new partnership or program, Qualman advises that stakeholders recognize when programs aren’t gaining traction and respond accordingly.
“You have to be prepared to throw a few darts at the board and see which ones stick,” he said. “If it’s a strain on your system, or you’re not getting the donor dollars or buy-in from your target audience, don’t spend a lot of time trying to push a proposal that doesn’t have legs.”
Allies in the fight
Each year, the Afterschool Alliance fights to at least maintain federal funding for after-school programs, which has been an uphill battle in recent years, said Jodi Grant, executive director of Afterschool Alliance. Rural communities need public dollars to be part of the equation, especially because federal funding can help leverage other resources, she said.
After securing federal grants, afterschool and summer programs should look to other creative funding solutions. Rural areas often have some kind of industry such as mining, ranching, railroads or skiing. Grant said groups should look to those industries for dollars, as well as nonprofits and the school districts themselves for creative solutions.
“The more we can facilitate sharing between programs and schools, the better it is for the kids,” she said.
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