Program Profile: Partnerships Pave the Way for Afterschool Success in Vermilion County
Project Success of Vermilion County is a great example of how 21st CCLC afterschool programming can positively impact students, their families, and the community. The community-based organization began with a single afterschool program in 1998, and in 2002, the team received a 21st CCLC grant serving two schools. Now afterschool programming is supported by five 21st CCLC grants that serve 14 schools and a community center (which serves three additional schools). Last year, Project Success’s 21st CCLC program served 1,025 students in the Vermilion County community.
Kimberly David, 21st CCLC project director, has worked for Project Success since 2000. She has witnessed the changes in the lives of students and families because of the expansion of quality 21st CCLC programming. “I think one of our site coordinators, Sadie Hofer, says this best: ‘Be Project Successful.’ This encompasses what afterschool means to students and families in Vermilion County,” explains David. “I have seen so many students and families succeed with the help our staff have provided. We have witnessed students that have difficulty thriving both mentally and emotionally in a school setting become leaders and shine in our programs, which has changed their entire educational experience and their relationships.”
Speaking of relationships, David says, “The key to strong afterschool programs is relationships!” She believes the 21st CCLC program’s success lies in hiring the right staff and finding strong partners. At the Project Success 21st CCLC program, most of the site coordinators are not teachers but have backgrounds in youth development.
Because of its years in the community, Project Success has a number of long-standing partners. Community partners like the University of Illinois Extension Service, St. Louis Dairy Council, area businesses, local first responders, local park districts, and public libraries all play roles in the afterschool programming. From cooking classes, special events, and outdoor activities to reading programs, these community partners make richer afterschool experiences possible for students. Finding local partners who can help meet the needs of children and families is integral to the work of 21st CCLC programs. This year, for the first time, David says she set a goal for each 21st CCLC site to have at least five community partner agencies. She says they all have surpassed that mark.
David takes advantage of marketing opportunities to pique the interest of potential partners. She sends out monthly press releases highlighting a few 21st CCLC sites each month, providing information about upcoming events and photo ops. Because of the positive publicity generated, many partners reach out to Project Success to see if they might be a good partner for the afterschool programs.
Communication with School Districts
School districts, like community partners, are invaluable assets to the 21st CCLC program. Without the districts, the programs would not be possible—they often provide the facilities needed and access to teachers and families.
David, along with project director Lucas Seilhymer and the whole 21st CCLC team, meet with school district partners one or two times a year to discuss student needs, goals, and logistics. The site coordinators work directly with schools, staying in frequent contact with administrators and teachers. They send monthly calendars and reports to principals and assistant principals and communicate about student progress and events.
The most important relationship of all—that with families and students—remains top of mind for all 21st CCLC staff. Site coordinators check in with families through email, phone calls, Remind.com, Facebook, and even old-fashioned snail mail. At the monthly 21st CCLC meetings with site coordinators, the team always discusses relationships with families and students. As a rule, the site coordinators communicate regularly with families, taking care to convey the positive things students are doing and emphasize the progress they are making. Due to these strong relationships, parents are more willing to work with staff to address any challenges that arise with students.
During the 2020–21 school year, the Project Success team adapted family engagement strategies to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. In past years, family get-togethers like Family STEM Night, Family Paint Night, and Lights on Afterschool were common. During the COVID-19 pandemic, all family events were virtual. Site coordinators also handed out family kits for activities that families could do together, like gardening or Easter egg coloring, for example. Some of the virtual family events that helped maintain connections among 21st CCLC staff and families include Family Bingo Night, Family Trivia Night, and Family Fitness Challenges, among others.
“Through this program, I have watched my students become better students, more confident, and well-rounded young people.”
—Jessika Jenkins, a teacher at Mary Miller Junior High School
The Project Success team relied on strong relationships to support students and their families that were affected by COVID-19, as the pandemic made social and emotional learning more important than ever. Site coordinators adjusted by spending more time talking one on one with students and helping them work through their feelings and emotions. The 21st CCLC staff also assembled mental health kits for kids to help cope with and find outlets for their stress.
Not surprisingly, the pandemic increased needs for families, too, due to job loss or illness. Although it is routine for the Project Success 21st CCLC staff to actively connect families to much-needed assistance, this became more important during the pandemic. If they know a family is unable to pay their utility bill, for example, they will do the research to find a source for assistance and connect families to the assistance provider. David says, “We have a lot of families that count on us, and they become our biggest advocates.”
Larry Maynard, superintendent for Oakwood Community Unit School District #76, attests to the value of the 21st CCLC programming during the difficult year students and teachers endured. “Project Success has been instrumental with additional educational support during the pandemic,” he says. “They were adaptable and flexible, providing assistance to our students and staff during the remote days and scheduling. They also provided assistance with our summer school program to address learning loss. We greatly appreciate our partnership with Project Success!”
These partnerships and flexibility have led to tangible successes for students. For example, the 21st CCLC program used a credit recovery program to address learning loss because many students did not adapt easily to learning online. A recent credit recovery success story involved Marcus (not his real name), a high school senior who was an active Army National Guard recruit looking forward to a career in military service. Georgetown-Ridge Farm site coordinator Michelle Brooks says, “[Marcus] had many struggles navigating e-learning and adapting to the new norms of COVID protocol during the first semester of the [2020–21] school year. Unfortunately, he fell behind in his classes. He ended up failing four classes. The second semester, he joined Project Success. Marcus was able to get the help he needed to stay on track and pass his current classes.”
For the first-semester classes he failed, Marcus was motivated to make up the courses in June and July. By July 22, he was able to earn his high school diploma and enter basic training a week later. “We are very proud of that young man,” says Brooks. That feeling of pride speaks to relationships that the 21st CCLC staff develop with all the students served by Project Success.
Other educators, like Jessika Jenkins, a teacher at Mary Miller Junior High School, are grateful for 21st CCLC afterschool programming. “Through this program, I have watched my students become better students, more confident, and well-rounded young people. Without Project Success, I don’t know what many of our students would do after school; I am very thankful for our program.”
Lucas Seilhymer calls Project Success an “integral and irreplaceable part” of the community. “Providing high-quality, educational, and fun 21st CCLC afterschool programming changes the lives of the children we serve,” he says. “The numbers speak for themselves. Afterschool programming works. By focusing on the student as a whole, including social, emotional, educational, and physical well-being, we strive to help our communities be better, safer, and healthier places to live.”