Program Profile: Planning for Sustainability Is a Community Affair for the Rock Island-Milan School District #41 21st CCLC Program

In this issue of Illinois Quality Afterschool Quarterly, we are profiling two 21st CCLC programs in the Quad Cities area of Illinois: Rock Island-Milan School District #41 and the Rock Island County Regional Office of Education 49. The two programs employ multiple strategies to sustain their programs, including implementing high-quality programming, cultivating strong relationships, using data to Inform next steps, and partnering to support successful out-of-school programs. These two sites focus on illustrating the importance of networking within the 21st CCLC community, and they have worked to create a culture of collaboration through the Illinois 21st CCLC mentor program.

Since 2008, the Rock Island-Milan School District #41 (RIMSD#41) 21st CCLC program has been serving schools, families, and the Greater Quad Cities community. The city of Rock Island and the Village of Milan are both situated in Illinois’ unique Quad Cities area, located along the Mississippi River and bordering Iowa. The John Deere factory and Rock Island Arsenal Army Base are two of the area’s largest employers, and the community has several nearby colleges and universities that enhance partnership possibilities.

Many of these organizations and others serve as partners to the 21st CCLC program. “Support from nonprofits, city entities, foundations, and local businesses allow our organization and community to thrive,” says project director Ramona Dixon. “All these entities work in collaboration with one another to ensure that we have the best for the kids of the community.” 

As the district administrator responsible for grants, Dixon has a unique perspective and knowledge of best practices related to sustainability. She has been a role model to others and often shares her knowledge of grants and sustainability with stakeholders in and out of her district, especially related to the data collection mechanisms necessary to ensure future funding.

When it comes to data collection, Dixon notes, it's hard to tell someone no when the data are speaking to the need. “When the data is showing that [the 21st CCLC program] works and is what kids desire, many organizations will have a tough time not supporting the initiative as presented.”

Dixon’s focus on sustainability planning and the mutually beneficial partnerships and relationships that support the afterschool endeavors are top priority for the RIMSD#41. These relationships provide academic, community, and social services support for students and their families. Dixon invests in relationships because they are key to providing high-quality programming, but most importantly these relationships are an essential aspect of the long-term sustainability plan.

Another key to the sustainability plan for the RIMSD#41 is sharing the program’s successes, opportunities, and potential for partnerships with partners and stakeholders through a quarterly (once monthly) event called “Check and Connect.” The meeting is open to the public, but it is usually a consistent set of community partners who attend. The 21st CCLC afterschool staff send blasts out in school newsletters and meet with school and district staff to share and highlight program activities and successes.

  • Have all necessary stakeholders at the table, such as district leadership, community partners, parents, and current and potential funders.
  • Incorporate sustainability into the first program leadership meeting.
  • Align data collection and review to sustainability plan, pull program data on a frequent basis, and disaggregate data to look for patterns of success and areas for improvement.
  • Collaborate with district and school staff to explore different options for running various aspects of the program with optimal staffing.
  • Determine the top two or three programming components that attract the most frequent participants, and determine how to run these programs in the most efficient ways, leveraging community partners as assets in the work.

With 14 years of 21st CCLC funding, RIMSD#41 has had time to learn a few important lessons about sustainability. “We’ve learned that you can and should have sustainability conversations; however, it is more important to put the plan on paper. Sustainability is real; it should be discussed often and as soon as possible with all stakeholders. The earlier the sustainability conversations happen, the more apt you are to ensure you are collecting the right data to evidence the need to sustain, tweak, or totally do away with various program components,” says Dixon.

RIMSD#41 serves a diverse population—more diverse than the state’s student demographics. Eighteen percent of the students have disabilities, compared with a statewide average of 15%. In addition, 52.8% of students are from low-income families, while the statewide average is 48.1%. “Access to out-of-school programming is essential to the overall success of the student. We know and believe that it is important to provide both students and families with a well-rounded educational experience; afterschool programming allows us to do just that,” says Dixon. The 21st CCLC team is constantly communicating the need for the program and its popularity among families and in the community, and Dixon feels certain funding for the program will continue beyond its 21st CCLC grant. 

The program’s sustainability plan aims to continue the most successful aspects of the 21st CCLC program. To support this goal, part of the sustainability plan uses data to identify which 21st CCLC activities meet students’ needs, and then to leverage Title I funds and community partnerships to maintain these activities. Currently, culinary club, chess club, Math Counts, and leadership club have been the program’s most successful clubs based on student attendance and feedback. As a result, the RIMSD#41 team has targeted them for continuation in the 21st CCLC’s sustainability plan. “The data that we discuss on a monthly basis led us to focus on those [activities],” says Dixon. “As such, we are in conversations within the district, and throughout the community around ways to continue each of these clubs with or without funding.”