Excel Beyond the Bell: Making the Most of After School

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Children walk through an after school play area outside Stewart Elementary School. Photo by Scott Ball.

Children walk through an after school play area outside Stewart Elementary School. Photo by Scott Ball.

Those listening to education reform conversations know that students walk into school with burdens and deficits far outside the scope of traditional instruction. For some of them, high-quality out-of-school time (OST) programs are a vital source of academic, emotional, and social support.

OST service providers from around San Antonio gathered at Rackspace for Excel Beyond the Bell San Antonio‘s annual summit on Wednesday. They discussed the needs, progress, and strategies of their mission to make San Antonio the top U.S. city for young people ages 5-17 to learn, grow, and thrive, regardless of where they live and go to school.

“The more adversity there is in your environment the more support you need,” said Ryan Lugalia-Hollon, network director of Beyond the Bell.

Beyond the Bell is a community of youth development leaders committed to making sure that every San Antonio child has access to the OST services they need. Through a partnership with the P16 Plus Council of Greater Bexar County (P16), Beyond the Bell is working to increase the quality and effectiveness of current programs, as well as the number of seats available.

Program Director for Excel Beyond the Bell Dr. Ryan Lugalia-Hollon gives an overview of the program. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report

Excel Beyond the Bell Program Director Ryan Lugalia-Hollon provides an overview of the program.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

Many times, after school programs are seen as community perks provided by mission-minded individuals left on their own to keep doors open and lights on. Beyond the Bell believes that a more systematic approach is necessary. By measuring outcomes, it hopes to resolve the question: “Is OST programming a ‘nice to have’ or a ‘need to have?’”

Northside Independent School District Superintendent Brian Woods affirmed the need for OST services in his welcome address. As the necessary cadre of skills for success grows with globalization, technology and new economies, more people look to schools to provide job training and soft skills in addition to traditional academics. Woods recognized the limits of the traditional school and the established school day to meet all of those expectations.

“Our outside-of-school programming is where students get to learn all of those things,” Woods said.

A broad selection of specialized and effective programs allows families to access the specific enrichment or support their students need. For middle class and lower income families alike, OST programs can provide a place of safety.

While kids in the inner city might experience greater physical threats, middle class kids also need a place to process the bullying, drug abuse and pressure they face.

“Adolescence is just a vulnerable time. The adolescent mind is wired for risk taking,” said Lugalia-Hollon, “and your identity is still forming.”

Data has shown that OST programs can be extremely effective for all kinds of families.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that the work you do is not the most important work in your community. There is nothing more important than raising up the future of our community and that is our children,” Woods said.

Northside Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Brian T. Woods speaks about the importance of promoting access and equity for after school programs. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

Northside Independent School District Superintendent Brian Woods speaks about the importance of promoting access and equity for after school programs. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

Children’s time outside school is often a zero sum game: every hour is either working for them or against them. When that time is spent with skilled, intentional providers not only are they gaining value, but they are escaping the detrimental effects of the other influences vying for their attention. 

Lugalia-Hollon emphasized the need for cooperation, not competition in the face of these influences.

“Our competition is not each other. Our competition are gangs and suicide and perhaps most dangerous of all, apathy,” said Lugalia-Hollon.

Beyond the Bell measures success in four ways: reach, youth development, educational success, and institutional excellence.

Angie Mock with Boys & Girls Club of San Antonio chairs the reach committee, whose goal is that by 2024 every child in San Antonio has access to the out of school enrichment they need.

She pointed out the many accolades garnered by the “city on the rise,” and asked, “is this greatness available to all?”

Right now, data shows that of the nearly 124,000 spots, or seats, available in programs needed to meet projected OST services demand in Bexar County, only 64,590 are open. Of those existing seats, 85% are provided by Beyond the Bell member organizations

The main barrier to scaling OST services, Mock said, is capacity. OST programming does not currently attract top talent, in general. People tend to stumble into OST jobs without intentions of building a career, making it difficult to build a highly motivated, trained and talented staff.

Sandy Morander, president and CEO of YMCA of Greater San Antonio, serves as the chair of the institutional excellence committee. Their goals are aimed at building that capacity and the effectiveness of those service providers already in place.

The goal of the excellence committee is that 100% of agencies take the Texas Partnership for Out of School Time self-assessment, and 75% agencies actively implement Texas standards.

Beyond the Bell provides professional development opportunities in a variety of formats. Member organizations have access to CypherWorx, as well as learning communities throughout the year.

“We are very committed to learning from each other,” Morander said.

Boys & Girls Club CEO Angie Mock explains the importance of after school youth development programs.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

Boys & Girls Club CEO Angie Mock explains the importance of after school youth development programs.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

As professionalism and institutional excellence increase, Beyond the Bell hopes to see OST services become an attractive career path for those who want to make a difference in their community, while working in stimulating, effective institutions.

The effectiveness of Beyond the Bell and its member organizations is measured in participants’ personal and educational development.

Denise Barkhurst, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas, explained the goal of the nonprofit’s youth development committee. Beyond the Bell aims to have 100% of member organizations intentionally building assets in their participants. “Assets” here refers to the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets, which have become a sort of golden standard for mentoring, counseling, and youth leadership development.

Barkhurst’s committee has identified 60 markers for progress in the assets. They include honesty, responsibility, restraint, purpose, a positive view of the future, and other observable traits.

Beyond the Bell would like to see all of its member organizations conduct an assets test at the beginning and end of service periods to track participant growth. A pilot with 10 member organizations showed marked gains in the “thriving” (50-60 markers) and “adequate” (42-51 markers) categories and reduction in the percentage of students who were “challenged” (0-29 markers) and “vulnerable” (30-41 markers).

Rudy Reyna, executive director of UTSA’s San Antonio Pre-freshman Engineering Program (PREP) and chair of Beyond the Bell’s educational success committee, wants to see this developmental gains translated to the formal learning environment as well.

“We want our kids to be committed to learning,” Reyna said.

Beyond the Bell’s goal for education success is that youth in all programs are also becoming college and career ready.

While “college and career ready” is a term that gets thrown around a lot, Reyna explained the complexity behind the idea. It is not just about being able to get a job, but about having a strategic approach to a career path, and continually setting one’s self up for opportunities to progress.

A pilot study by his committee demonstrated that participants in Beyond the Bell programs in San Antonio ISD and Harlandale ISD did better than the ISD averages in attendance, STAAR performance, and grade progression. They did not, however do better than the Region 20 averages in STAAR scores, demonstrating that more affluent school districts still do perform better the low income districts, even with supports in place, according to Reyna.

For many students, especially those later in their high school career, OST programs do offer the opportunity to excel, especially in areas like art, programming, and athletics. While there is work to be done helping the general ISD population close achievement gaps, for individual students can achieve mastery through programs like Say Sí, Youth Orchestra of San Antonio (YOSA), and Code Jam.

This collaboration of the EBBSA organizations want to expand the support and the opportunities kids need from a safe foundation to the highest achievements.

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CORRECTION: The name of Boys & Girls Club CEO Angie Mock was corrected from a previous version of a photo caption .

Top Image: Children walk through an after school play area outside Stewart Elementary School.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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