Program Profile: Citizen Schools' 21st CCLC at Woodson Elementary School, Chicago

As a community-based organization working in cities across the United States, Citizen Schools has developed a foundational program model with built-in flexibility to ensure alignment with district and school needs, and goals for students. The model—and its flexible implementation—is evident at Chicago’s Woodson Elementary School 21st CCLC program. The 21st CCLC expands the learning day for 100 students in grades 5 through 8, providing programming based on two main components, apprenticeships and academic support, and works with school and district leadership to be an integral part of the school improvement process.

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Citizen Schools programming emphasizes offering students enrichment activities and interactions with adults, opportunities often missing or in short supply in low-income communities and public schools. Tuesdays and Thursdays are devoted to hands-on “apprenticeship classes” taught by volunteers from Chicago corporate and community organizations. While learning to be cooks, business leaders, scientists, and computer coders, students are building important career skills, such as teamwork, problem-solving, and communication. A recent collaboration with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives brought middle school students a 10-week session called “Law and Your Community.” The program helped foster a positive relationship between the students and Chicago police and also offered information for students who expressed interest in becoming police officers. The program also garnered the program positive press and visibility. On Mondays and Wednesdays, the afterschool focus is on academic support. Five AmeriCorps staff members provide structured homework time and teach math review lessons based on the content taught during the school day the week before. Through their academic support and apprenticeships, the team provides the most relevant experiences to their students.

Similar to the intentionality and relevancy they bring to their students, the Citizen Schools’ team strives to work with school and district leaders on school improvement efforts. Eileen Dominic, 21st CCLC program director and Citizen Schools program and operations associate, shares some of the ways her team fosters positive and constructive relationships with school-day staff and school leaders. “We collaborate with our principal in working towards school improvement efforts. This year, we have integrated and even influenced our schools’ behavior management system by launching a weekly incentivized ‘paycheck’ system. This has been adopted by school-day staff.” The Woodson site leader, a seasoned teacher and former assistant principal, attends principal and grade-level meetings. Thanks to his background, he is able to serve as a thought partner as the school continues to implement their improvement plans. In addition, the afterschool team participates with school-day staff in weekly collaborative planning meetings and holds monthly school-day staff appreciation events—with gifts! And not to be underestimated, consistent family contact, by phone and face-to-face conversations, helps promote student school and afterschool attendance, as well as the pursuit of grades and goals.

As a community-based organization relatively new to the Chicago area—the 21st CCLC program at Woodson launched in June 2012—Citizen Schools faced initial challenges in getting district and school leaders to include them in conversations about school improvement and student achievement. On addressing these challenges, Dominic says, “As an outside partner it is crucial to articulate your value add to the school and your alignment with the school and district’s overall strategy.”

What are some specific actions that helped them make the case that 21st CCLC programs are an important part of the school improvement conversation?

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Dominic reports setting up key meetings with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) leaders “to explain the critical role we can play in supporting a school’s improvement efforts.” With the 2013 release of CPS’s annual performance report and the School Quality Ratings Policy, they revised their outreach materials to detail how the Citizen Schools model aligns directly to some of Woodson’s key outcomes. They also participated in the school’s Continuous Improvement Work Plan meetings and Instructional Leadership Team meetings as a way of supporting Woodson’s strategy and to incorporate maximum partnering opportunities.

For 21st CCLC leaders who want their programs to play a more meaningful role in a school’s vision, Dominic has this recommendation: “Whenever possible, be part of the planning process for that vision. Relationships with school staff are essential—be proactive about joining meetings and being a collaborative partner early on.” She also suggests reviewing the school’s annual performance report to ascertain where they most need to improve in the coming year. Is it attendance? Emphasize family outreach. Is it assessment? Emphasize how your program uses data to inform academic support. “Our program has always strived to play an integral role in school improvement, and this has increased in practice over time by continuing to align our work to the School Quality Ratings Policy and the articulated needs of our school leader, students, teachers, and families.”