Program Profile: Students Playing and Learning Afterschool Hours

In a high-quality afterschool program, the students aren’t the only ones learning. At the Students Playing and Learning Afterschool Hours (SPLASH) program, the staff and leadership team are also continuously learning. They have honed their skills in providing engaging activities and used the program’s success as a springboard for sustainability.

Based at Urbana Middle School in Urbana School District 116, SPLASH received its first 21st CCLC grant in 2005. The team worked to master the logistics of a high-quality 21st CCLC: programming, scheduling, staffing, community partnerships, food and transportation, and recordkeeping. The hard work paid off with a second round of 21st CCLC funding in 2010, and in 2013, SPLASH received the first Illinois School Spotlight Award from the Illinois State Board of Education.

As the program matured and students, parents, staff, educators, and community members have been pleased with the program’s impact, the SPLASH team is concentrating more on sustainability. “For many years, it [sustainability] was low on our priority list,” says Linda Gibbens, director of grant-based programs. “Within the past year, we have spent a great deal of time fostering relationships and seeking funding to continue the program. The timing was right for us to focus on sustainability.”

Those relationships have been crucial to SPLASH’s sustainability plan. “It took time and energy to inform the community about SPLASH, but it was well worth the investment," says Gibbens. “We put together tours, showed our stakeholders around the program, and spread the word to our local governing bodies.” Now, key champions include former and current superintendents; the Urbana Rotary Club, which purchased a portable computer lab for the program; the University of Illinois, which has provided volunteers and also written grants so that graduate students can teach classes; community volunteers; and the Urbana Park District, whose afterschool services were originally covered by the 21st CCLC grant but is now providing the services without grant funds.

Despite the variety of individuals and organizations with whom SPLASH partners, they share a common trait: they are all able to see the benefit of supporting and helping sustain the program. In some cases, supporters simply believe that SPLASH offers a safe, nurturing environment where students can learn and explore after school. Other organizations find that supporting SPLASH helps them fulfill their own mission. Gibbens cites the Urbana Park District as one such example. “The Park District believes that because of SPLASH they are better able to serve middle school students in the community,” she says.

Photo of students in an afterschool program
Photo of students in an afterschool program
Photo of students in an afterschool program
Photo of students in an afterschool program
Photo of students in an afterschool program
Photo of students in an afterschool program

To maintain support, the SPLASH team keeps partners and community members informed about the program’s success and the impact they help achieve. SPLASH staff and partners do this with a combination of success stories and supporting data. “It made a significant impact when we had students and parents tell their stories about the program,” says Gibbens, adding “we [also] had plenty of … data from PPICS [the Profile and Performance Information Collection System] and our yearly evaluation, all of which helped us tell a compelling story about SPLASH.”

Gibbens attributes SPLASH’s steps towards sustainability to her team’s hard work and willingness to grow. For 21st CCLCs that are just beginning to develop long-term sustainability plans, Gibbens has the following suggestions:

  • Spend the bulk of your time making the program valuable to your participants and create buy-in from students, parents, educators, administrators, partners, volunteers, governmental entities, and community members.
  • Make sure you create a program that is a good investment for your stakeholders.
  • Consider everyone a potential partner and build strong relationships.
  • Be respectful with your partners and stakeholders.
  • Give up on ideas that don’t work.
  • Be thoughtful about the opportunities you are offering to students.
  • Make sure the classes are relevant.
  • Focus on creating a strong and meaningful program.
  • It’s not all about the funding.
  • It is never a done deal.
  • Continue to look for new and more funding sources.

If you’d like to learn more about the SPLASH program at Urbana Middle School, watch this short video about the program.