Pittsburgh might be America’s most livable city, but when it comes to integrating best practices in out-of-school-time programming the Detroit area might just have the jump on southwestern Pennsylvania. Recently, Sharnita Johnson, of the Detroit-based Skillman Foundation shared her grantmaking organization’s experiences in out-of-school time programs with representatives from a diverse group of local organizations at an Allegheny Partners for Out of School Time (APOST) symposium event.
Top items among the lessons learned in Detroit: an emphasis on the arts taught by professional teaching artists as a youth development tool, the benefits of coordination among service-providers, and a neighborhood-based approach to engaging youth in programming. To be fair to local providers and foundations, it is exactly their collective interests and the progress currently being made in Pittsburgh in these areas that brought Ms. Johnson here. It’s just that the Skillman Foundation has been focused on it for longer and has some great data to share. Johnson spoke of the arts as an excellent vehicle for youth development similar to sports or tutoring. By working with quality professional teaching artists skilled at engaging underserved children and youth, she reported that the youth were less likely to participate in risky behavior, developed arts skills that led to greater self-expression and employment opportunities, and performed better in school.
Engaging students in quality arts learning happens to be something we know a little bit about here at Gateway. In fact, that is why Programming Supervisor Kellee Van Aken was also on the symposium agenda to speak about the current work Gateway is doing on the Heinz Endowment’s initiative in arts-based Out of School Time Programming. Several months in on a two-year project, Gateway to the Arts is working with teaching artists and program managers from six local organizations that provide out-of-school-time programs to create a community of learners, building upon the teaching artist’s skills for delivery of arts-based learning with a focus on student learning and documentation.
Representatives from the participating organizations (Bethany House, Family Resources, Hope Academy, Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, the Pittsburgh Project and the Schenley Heights Community Development Program) were present at the event and heard Johnson speak about “SOSO” – systems of support and opportunities. SOSO establishes a network among the organizations that includes quality program delivery and data collection. As it plays out, youth have access to more targeted programming and have a voice in developing that programming which leads them to become more engaged in their communities and build their skills. And the organizations, through the data collection, gain information to better serve the youth and their communities and to report to their stakeholders.
While part of the challenge of providing out-of-school-time programming is that it must meet the needs of a specific community, lessons on what has worked in other places go a long way in helping to define what can make a difference here. The best practice will ensure that no child is left behind and that all youth have opportunities to expand their knowledge and skills and feel valuable and valued.