Afterschool Focus: Community Partnerships, Planning, and Program Delivery

Afterschool leaders and researchers alike have long recognized that 21st CCLC programs with thriving partnerships are more likely to offer high-quality programming to their students. Collaborative relationships are especially beneficial when the organizations involved share mutual, aligned goals,1 as these partnerships allow afterschool programs to broaden their services and provide activities that many students would not get to experience otherwise. 

This fall, many 21st CCLC programs have prioritized academic and social and emotional needs that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, and afterschool leaders are working with partners to support those priorities. Other 21st CCLC programs are re-engaging partners who had limited roles during the 2020–21 school year, which was defined by online learning, social distancing, and learning pods. Whether you have a new or veteran program, it is helpful to evaluate your partnerships periodically to ensure the best results for your students. 


Evaluating a Community Partner

How do afterschool programs form strong partnerships that are mutually beneficial and have aligned goals? How can programs evaluate and revive existing relationships? Below are some steps your 21st CCLC team can follow to break down the process of establishing and evaluating partnerships. Being transparent in these initial discussions goes a long way toward getting a partnership off to a good start or maintaining a solid, long-term relationship. 

First, keep in mind the 21st CCLC goals when assessing whether a community partner is a good fit. Does the community partner help you meet one or more of these goals?

  • Help students achieve standards in core academic subjects, such as reading and math
  • Offer academic, cultural, or artistic enrichment programs that supplement regular academic programs
  • Provide literacy and related educational services for the families of participating students


Goals and Capacity

When you meet with potential and existing partners, begin by discussing the goals for the partnership. Consider your 21st CCLC program’s priorities and those of the partner organization. Do the afterschool and partner priorities mesh? Discussions with community partners might focus on the following questions that you can ask them:

  • What are the goals of your program?
  • How does your program work to meet its goals?
  • What have been the results of the intervention or activities your program provides?
  • To what extent does your program understand or have experience with the student and family populations we focus on?
  • To what extent does your program have the capacity to provide your services or resources to our students?2


COVID-19 Safety Protocols

Given that we are still in the midst of the pandemic, you may also want to ask your potential or existing partner the following questions:

  • How are you adapting the delivery of service to consider social distancing, outdoor programming, and other safety protocols?
  • Do you provide activities that address social and emotional needs or learning recovery needs?


Program Information

Potential partner organizations also need to decide if the afterschool program fits their goals and needs the resources they can offer. Be prepared to provide the following information to a potential partner.

  • What are the goals of your 21st CCLC program?
  • What are your 21st CCLC program’s unmet needs?
  • What student and family populations does your program target, or which students and families need the most help?
  • How do you see the partner organization’s services and resources addressing afterschool needs?
  • Will the partner organization need to get any additional training or special clearances to work with you?
  • How many hours per week will you need the partner organization’s services?
  • Can partners discuss with teachers what is required to meet student learning needs best?
  • What other services or partnerships are in place?

At this point, program staff and the community partner representatives may have decided, “Yes, we’re a great match. Together, we can help students be more successful.” Or, if you are talking to an existing partner, you might agree, “Yes, we should continue working together!” Of course, you may need to change programming or how partners provide services, and you can address those potential changes in ongoing communication and planning meetings.

The next step is planning. As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” 


Partnership Planning

If you had good discussions about the questions in the previous section, you likely agreed on goals for the partnership. If not, now is the time to make those goals clear. AIR’s Beyond the Bell Toolkit has an easy-to-use Partnership Planning Worksheet3 that can walk you through the critical decisions regarding day-to-day activities, staffing, providing materials, facilities and other logistics, preparation responsibilities, program evaluation, communication, conflict resolution, and more. Again, in addition to 21st CCLC program goals, consider immediate site and program priorities for the current school year. 

As you work through those topics, you will think of many details and issues that might be important to you, the schools you serve, and your students and their families. Being clear up front can save time and resources and prevent frustration and misunderstandings. Putting vital elements in a memorandum of understanding or another contractual form can further clarify roles. As partnerships develop, this list of discussion questions from Policy Analysis for California Education can guide 21st CCLC programs and partners in addressing issues such as collaborative planning, equity, and more.4


Program Delivery

Now that you have mapped out how the partnership will work, including the services that the partner will provide, when and where they will hold activities, and logistical support needed, it is showtime. Constant communication—whether about scheduling, student needs, or policy changes—is essential to relationship maintenance. You may want to establish regular meetings to touch base with different partners. With careful attention paid to alignment with afterschool program goals, the needs of students and families, logistics, communications, and resources, your community partnership should be a success!



Birmingham, J., Pechman, E. M., Russell, C. A., & Mielke, M. (2005). Shared features of high-performing after-school programs: A follow-up to the TASC evaluation. Policy Studies Associates, Inc.

Costelloe, S., & Cheng, I. F. (2016). Partnering for student success: A practical guide to building effective school-based partnerships. William Penn Foundation.

Little, P. M. D., Wimer, C., & Weiss, H. B. (2008). After school programs in the 21st century: Their potential and what it takes to achieve it. Issues and Opportunities in Out-of-School Time Evaluation, 10.



1 Birmingham et al., 2005; Little et al., 2008.

2 Adapted from Costelloe & Cheng, 2016.

3 Clicking the link will automatically launch the document download.

4 Vance et al., January 2021.