Program Profile: SPLASH 21st CCLC Keeps Students and Partnerships Central to Program Mission

The Students Playing and Learning After School Hours (SPLASH) 21st CCLC program in Urbana, Illinois, has changed since it was launched in 2005. The 21st CCLC has won two additional grants and grown from a single middle school to five sites, now serving some 435 students. The team spent the first few years of programming building a strong foundation and getting processes and logistics in place. Yet, since the 21st CCLC began, an emphasis on student-centered programming, especially for youth who need additional support, and strong relationships have remained a central part of the program.

Student-centered programming includes getting their input on activities, keeping language and offerings fresh and interesting for the different age groups, and giving students at all grade levels a variety of activities from which to choose. For high school students, this means ACT preparation, career planning, and activities to help them stay on track for graduation. Younger students also participate in academic enrichment and explore a range of enrichment activities so they can learn about what interests them and develop their talents.

The SPLASH team considers the program’s longevity to be one of its assets and differentiators. Student participation is consistent, and 21st CCLC staff and stakeholders can engage in reviewing the program’s annual evaluation and using the data to promote the program and plan for the next year. The 21st CCLC team creates handouts and presentations about the program and its impact, sharing this information with a range of stakeholders. Each SPLASH site coordinator is also a staff member at the school where their site is located, enabling them to communicate with school staff and leaders about the 21st CCLC. Based at the district’s central office, Project Director Linda Gibbens can communicate with district administration and school board members, ensure stakeholders’ goals and expectations are aligned, and keep them aware of the program’s success.

While aligning programming with the 21st CCLC objectives of providing academic enrichment, extracurricular activities, and other learning opportunities, the SPLASH team also addresses their different stakeholder groups’ interests. “We are not a childcare program,” stresses Gibbens, “although we recognize it is important for families to know that their children are in a safe place participating in positive activities. Students like that they get to do cool things with their friends, and community members also like that students are learning and engaged in enriching programming.” Gibbens also notes that the school staff appreciates the program because it helps students master academic content and provides enrichment activities. The team has developed strong partnerships with these different groups, seeking feedback and letting them know how the program benefits students and the community. These strong relationships have paid off, as partner organizations have continued to provide enrichment programs when there were no longer 21st CCLC funds for the activities.

This spring, when schools rapidly switched to remote learning, the 21st CCLC shifted to virtual programming. SPLASH provided some virtual programming in the spring and then spent the summer planning for a more robust suite of online activities for the fall. Strong relationships and student-centered programming inform even virtual activities. Community partners have stepped up to offer activities like virtual field trips, guiding students through local parks and answering their questions through chat and video. With staff and students not meeting in person, site coordinators have increased outreach to parents and students to see what supports they need and let them know how important they are to the 21st CCLC program. The 21st CCLC also provides activities that students can complete independently and without technology, recognizing that some families may not have the technology to participate or may simply want to take a break from screen time after a day of online school.

When asked what grantees should know about the 21st CCLC program, Gibbens revisits her previous observation that the 21st CCLC program is not a childcare program or drop-in play time. “Our primary focus is engaging students academically,” she says, adding that academic support is more than tutoring and homework help but means integrating academics into a range of enrichment activities. Gibbens also notes that programs need time to build a strong foundation. “Focus on your vision,” says Gibbens. “Take things slowly, and build your program and your partnerships.”