Program Profile: There Is Always a Focus on Sustainability at the Rock Island County Regional Office of Education 21st CCLC Program

The Rock Island County Regional Office of Education (RIROE) 21st CCLC team has focused on sustainability since the office received its first grant some 20 years ago. The program currently manages six grants, has a total of six sites in four different districts, and serves 1,200 students in elementary, middle, and high school. Their 21st CCLC program is called Lights On for Learning (LOFL).

Rock Island County has a large immigrant and refugee population, and the community is home to 77 languages. The county borders Iowa, and manufacturing industries and agriculture provide jobs to many of the residents. RIROE regional superintendent Tammy Muerhoff describes the community as very welcoming, which is key to the success of the LOFL afterschool programs that RIROE manages. Muerhoff’s 20 years of service in the regional office have also given her a long-range perspective and detailed knowledge of the 21st CLCC program requirements for sustainability.


Investing in Staff

LOFL 21st CCLC project director Rebecca Anderson says that supporting staff at all levels of programming is one example of the team’s attention to sustainability. Project directors and site coordinators receive training through Illinois Quality Afterschool webinars and workshops, and every month the regional office hosts a site coordinators meeting that focuses on different aspects of the 21st CCLC program and the latest from RIROE. The program leadership then asks site coordinators to disseminate information to their teams at each site.

Anderson is also developing ways to communicate directly with site staff and recognize their efforts and successes. “We want to lift them up. . . . Sustainability isn’t just about sustaining the program but sustaining the staff,” Anderson says. Acknowledging team contributions can raise morale and reduce staff turnover, especially after the increased challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the pandemic, some LOFL sites expanded programming to provide more support to students and families and increased their budgets as a result. Some advocates have recently testified at an Illinois State Board of Education hearing about funding and sustainability, hoping to draw attention to the increased needs of students from low-income backgrounds and the ways that 21st CCLC programs support them.


Fostering Relationships and Communication

The 21st CCLC leadership fosters communication and relationships among program staff so that they can collaborate and support each other. “For sustainability, you need relationships, and so, we strengthen the relationships between coordinators—help them communicate with each other,” says Anderson. “Sharing ideas is important for sustainability. And although they are under the same fiscal umbrella, they’re each doing their best to target the needs of [the students and staff in their] buildings.”

Building relationships with students and families is just as important. According to Teresa Dothard-Campbell, site coordinator for Glenview Middle School in East Moline District 37, “For students to be successful, you must build relationships. It is through those relationships that students begin to understand one of the keys to their success is simply showing up every day.”

“Sustainability isn’t just about sustaining the program, but sustaining the staff.”

—Rebecca Anderson, Project Director, Rock Island County Regional Office of Education 21st CCLC Program


Because communicating a program’s success is vital to sustainability, the 21st CCLC leadership recently provided training on communications, helping site coordinators plan communications for the families, staff, and district administrators. They also learned to manage public relations with the community and state policymakers. Anderson says, “And now we have the option of social media. So, we discussed how to implement that and add that in.” The RIROE has been publicizing the sites through its social media accounts, which reach family and community members.

Individual sites still offer the most direct community outreach. One standout is the work done at the Glenview Middle School site, which holds a month-long LOFL series of events. For example, in the first week, the focus is on students; in the second week, the team brings the families in for a celebration of families. This spring, they held a multicultural fair to celebrate the different cultures in their school community. They also dedicate a week to inviting community partners and supporters, including the police department, to share information about their organizations and learn about the 21st CCLC program. The afterschool chef’s club cooks for the visitors. All the events are designed to involve family and community, strengthen relationships, and spread the word about LOFL’s work. Successful events like those in the LOFL series can also empower families and community members to become advocates for the 21st CCLC program.

The efforts to involve families and communicate with them have paid off. Gregg Johnson, a Glenview parent whose child attends the 21st CCLC program, wrote this to the program staff: “As a parent of a 5th grader at Glenview, I cannot possibly express how appreciative I am of all of you and what you do every day. These afterschool clubs are absolutely essential in not only continuing to support our kids’ growth but, just as importantly, they help them catch up on the social engagement time lost from the Pandemic. … I am personally more grateful than I can express in this email. I know that my little girl is already looking forward to next year and the afterschool programs that will hopefully continue to be offered. I have always believed that we have a responsibility to make this a better place every day. Thank you for making [my child’s] world a better place each and every day.” 



For sustainability, partnerships indeed are key. Each of the six sites develops their own partnerships, with staff from each seeking partners to meet their specific needs. However, everyone gets to benefit from partner knowledge. During the monthly site coordinators meeting, the 21st CCLC leaders have hosted different partners as guest speakers via Zoom. Recently, a partner from Blackhawk College, a local community college, presented on their adult family engagement programming. Blackhawk has been a partner of all of the 21st CCLC sites since the inception of funding. Western Illinois University will present next and discuss ways they can partner with the sites.  


“Thank you for making [my child’s] world a better place each and every day.”


—Gregg Johnson, Parent

Muerhoff is well aware of the importance of partnerships. She advises all 21st CCLC leaders to prioritize relationships when developing programs and planning for sustainability: “Always be cognizant of the importance of the relationships that are built and have a willingness to reach out to others and create new relationships and partnerships, as well, recognizing that it’s only going to impact positively your community and the students, the parents, [and] the families that you serve.”

Muerhoff’s advice rings true. Consider John Deere Middle School in Moline-Coal Valley School District 40. There, site coordinator Chad Potter engaged his site in a project to renew downtown Moline. The group leading the effort, Renewal Moline, was considering building a skateboard park for the city’s downtown. Potter reached out to that organization and suggested that some of the 21st CCLC students could support the project. The students have become partners of the renewal group, researching existing skateboard parks across the country and the companies that build them.

Anderson describes the relationship as a project-based learning exercise that also includes English language arts, since students are developing communication skills by interviewing others about existing parks and the professionals who build them. In this case, the site coordinator’s efforts to establish the partnership could increase the sustainability of the site.

Potter notes that youth-centered programming is key to student engagement and a successful partnership: “It sounds simple, but all too often we get hung up on what we [adults] want to do to the exclusion of the students’ interests. . . .  If we build from students’ interests, problems like [poor] attendance never materialize.”


Sustainability Is a Coordinated Effort

For sustainability planning and high-quality programming, the LOFL team collaborates with other 21st CCLC programs in the area. Ramona Dixon, project director of the Rock Island-Milan School District #41 21st CCLC program, served as a professional mentor for Anderson during the 2021–22 school year as part of the Illinois 21st CCLC mentor program. Dixon and Anderson have collaborated on several strategies for improving programming and achieving sustainability. “We have been fortunate to have Ramona within our community and when it comes to sustainability, she is a great resource to talk with,” says Anderson.

Closer to home, the LOFL team maintains strong relationships with the team at RIROE, where the 21st CCLC is housed and managed. Muerhoff sees RIROE’s infrastructure and support as providing critical help to the 21st CCLC team in offering its current high-quality programming and planning for sustainability. “As the fiscal agent, we have helped establish additional supports and resources for the sustainability of programming. Not just when and if the grant ends, but also ongoing while the grant is in effect, those relationships are very important,” she says.