Afterschool Focus: Afterschool as a Critical Connection Between Schools and Communities

Strong partnerships between schools and families and communities are one of the five essential elements of high-performing schools. Research has shown that schools that are strong on the five essentials-effective leaders, collaborative teachers, involved families, supportive environment, and ambitious instruction-are 10 times more likely to improve student learning in mathematics and English language arts than schools that are weak in these areas.1

These connections are important to afterschool practitioners for several reasons. Family and community engagement is associated with positive academic and behavioral outcomes for students.2 Schools are also recognizing that many students, especially those from low-income neighborhoods, face nonacademic barriers to learning. Schools are now seeking support from community partners to eliminate these barriers.3 As schools seek to strengthen these relationships, 21st CCLC programs are a critical connection in building meaningful relationships between schools and families and communities.


Many articles about expanded learning partnerships focus on the partnerships that a 21st CCLC forms directly with schools or family and community members. While these relationships are important to afterschool programs, they can also lead to stronger ties among the different community members-an integrated network that strengthens schools and ultimately improves student learning.4

When 21st CCLC programs connect families, communities, and schools, they foster a network of mutually beneficial relationships. Afterschool programs complement a school’s core academic instruction with a wider range of services and activities that may not be available during the school day. Students and their families experience a greater continuity of services, while enjoying expanded learning opportunities and developmental supports. Students can explore different learning styles, and those who struggle academically have a chance to excel in other areas. In addition, teachers who also work in afterschool programs can implement different instructional strategies. Family members also have an alternative entry point for engaging in their child’s education. While offering a variety of activities and services, this integrated network maintains communication and support among the different partners.5

Community partners also benefit when 21st CCLCs connect them with families and schools. They are better able to access and recruit the students who most need their services. The sharing and alignment of staff, facilities, data, and resources also help community partners offer higher quality programming and align their work with a shared vision for learning and student achievement.6

Putting It All Together

To truly create connections among schools and families and communities, 21st CCLC leaders will want to move beyond partnerships for singular tasks, such as aligning activities with the school day or hosting a family engagement activity. While these are important activities, think of them as part of a plan to integrate and align a network of relationships and services.

Collective impact and community mapping are two strategies that 21st CCLCs can use to strengthen ties between schools and families and communities. Grounded in the belief that no single organization can solve any major social problem by itself, successful collective impact initiatives typically have five conditions to produce alignment and results: a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support organizations.7 Expanded learning programs are well positioned to lead or support collective impact efforts because they can leverage existing relationships between local schools and superintendents, as well as communities and parents. They also have the capacity to support both academic and nonacademic outcomes for students.8

Community mapping is a tool that supports collective impact. Also known as resource or system mapping, this tool offers a way for organizations to identify strengths within a community by identifying assets and resources that can be used for building a system. Community mapping can be a literal geographic mapping of resources in a community. It can also be a conceptual process of creating an inventory of resources or assets in a community or neighborhood-or some combination of the two strategies. In both cases, the tool can inform partnerships and plans to align and integrate stakeholders.

As you integrate partnerships, work to develop a shared vision and metrics for success. Remember that partners should complement rather than duplicate services. Each partner organization should have a specific role and play to their strengths.


Collective Impact

Community Mapping


1 University of Chicago, 2016.

2 Henderson and Mapp, 2002

3  Anderson-Butcher, Stetler, and Midle, 2006.

4 Horn, Freeland, and Butler, 2015.

5 Little, 2013.

6 Little, 2013.

7 FSG, 2016.

8 ExpandED Schools, 2014.


Anderson-Butcher, D., Stetler, E. G., & Midle, T. (2006). A case for expanded school-community partnerships in support of positive youth development. Children & Schools28(3), 155-163.

ExpandED Schools. (2014). Collective impact: Stronger results with community-based organizations. New York, NY: Author. Retrieved from 

FSG. (2016). Collective Impact. Washington, D.C. Author. Retrieved from 

Henderson, A. T., & Mapp, K. L. (2002). A new wave of evidence: The impact of school, family, and community connections on student achievement. Austin, TX: SEDL. Retrieved from 

Horn, M. B., Freeland, J., & Butler, S. M. (2015, September). Schools as Community Hubs: Integrating Support Services to Drive Educational Outcomes. Building Healthy Neighborhoods (no. 4). Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institute. Retrieved from 

Little, P. (2013). School-Community Learning Partnerships: Essential to Expanded Learning Success. In Peterson, T. K. (Ed.) Expanding minds and opportunities: Leveraging the power of afterschool and summer learning for student success (pp. 194-198). Washington, DC: Collaborative Communications Group. Retrieved from 

University of Chicago. (2016). 5Essentials. Chicago, IL: Author. Retrieved from