News from the Field: Project Success of Vermilion County

Because fall is a time when 21st CCLC programs are kicking off a new school year of programming, we are focusing on program management, the practices and strategies that 21st CCLC leaders use to ensure that all of their sites offer high-quality programming. We are focusing on program management strategies that Project Success 21st CCLC uses. To learn more about the program and some of its other activities, visit the Project Success Facebook page or read the Fall 2016 story about the program’s activities.

Whether you are starting a new 21st CCLC program or continuing an existing grant, fall means planning for a new year of afterschool programming. Project Success of Vermilion County 21st CCLC will do both: launch six new sites with a new grant that ISBE awarded in summer of 2018 and continue afterschool programming at five established sites. The leadership team, composed of CEO and CFO Rickey Williams Jr., Associate Director Kimberly David, and Program Director Abby Boen, as well as the local site staff pride themselves on offering fun, engaging, and educational programming that supports academic and social and emotional learning, but the team also knows that this does not happen without strong program management practices.

Project Success kicked off the new school year in August with a two-day orientation. The event was primarily for new site coordinators, so the leadership presented much of the requisite onboarding information and compliance and programming requirements. Additionally, to capitalize on the strengths of veteran site coordinators and build relationships, the 21st CCLC leadership invited more seasoned site coordinators to present some of the orientation sessions, such as developing program plans, managing discipline, planning and delivering fun and innovative enrichment activities, and developing relationships and community partnerships.

After the event, all sites received a “survival kit” with all of the information from training and orientation, as well as resources they will need throughout the year. This includes a list of best practices, vendors, state and federal tax-exempt forms, program plans, and a master list of due dates for reporting and other tasks. The kit also has a flash drive with templates for data collection that are set up in the appropriate format so that, once they are complete, they are ready to submit for reporting purposes.  

As a community-based organization, Project Success works to ensure that staff and activities are tightly integrated into the school community. Each 21st CCLC site has a full-time site coordinator with an office at the school the site serves. When schools opened for student registration in August, the site coordinators were there to tell parents about the 21st CCLC and encourage them to enroll their students in the afterschool program at the same time they registered them for school. The 21st CCLC site staff also used the time at the beginning of the school year for meeting with the principal, teachers, and other staff, attending relevant professional development sessions with school staff, and just building relationships with their school partners.

As the school year progresses, the 21st CCLC team will hold monthly in-person meetings for all site coordinators. While the meetings are important for sharing information and updates, the support and community of practice that come out of the monthly meetings are also a vital part of program support. Each site coordinator provides a quick update about his or her location, answering three questions: What have you done? What did you learn? And what do you need help with? The 21st CCLC program leadership team is eager to help, but many of the other site coordinators are quick to offer suggestions and strategies as well.

A focus on quality and continuous improvement means regular contact with the 21st CCLC evaluators, who provide ongoing support and feedback in addition to the annual evaluation that they complete every year. The Project Success leadership team meets with the evaluators at least once a quarter to discuss successes and challenges of the program and convey information between evaluators and site coordinators. The 21st CCLC leaders also use the meetings to revisit the annual evaluation and discuss how the program has addressed the evaluators’ feedback.

The 21st CCLC leadership team has a rotation in place so that each site receives a visit from one member of the three-person leadership team every month. This face-to-face contact is a key part of support and accountability. These visits can include structured components like checklists and resources for 21st CCLC compliance, but there is also an informal component, a chance for program leadership to talk to site staff and see the activities in action.

Because coordinators are typically the only staff from afterschool sites who attend in-person training events and meetings with the 21st CCLC leadership, the Project Success team uses a series of strategies to disseminate information, support local sites and staff, and provide accountability. Through a train-the-trainer model, site coordinators take key information and practices to the staff at their sites. In addition, site coordinators are required to submit meeting and training agendas, as well as monthly site reports to the program leadership. The reports must provide a calendar of activities for the upcoming month and a list of activities delivered during the past month, including program scheduling information, attendance, and peak attendance information. Each site also provides a more descriptive narrative of the month’s events, including a “moment of the month,” which is an event or student experience that was outstanding for the site.  

In addition to sending monthly reports to 21st CCLC leadership, site coordinators send copies to all school staff where the site is located and to the 21st CCLC evaluation team. Finally, every month, a member of the 21st CCLC leadership team compiles the highlights and successes from the monthly reports and sends them to the local media. This seamless public relations practice helps elevate the program’s profile in the community and ensures that a broader group of stakeholders are aware of the program’s success.

Strong program management practices depend on a positive environment and supportive relationships. Williams describes the environment and Project Success 21st CCLC as a culture of high expectations for staff, students, and stakeholders. “At every meeting, I remind the team that they are some child’s best hope. I want Project Success to be the best youth services agency in Vermilion County.”