Tim Garvin, vice president and executive director of the Central Branch of the YMCA of Greater Boston, describes a child’s life as a triangle. The child is in the middle of the triangle, Garvin says, surrounded and supported by the child’s school, family, and larger community.
“If the three points are communicating well, the child develops in a much more supportive and healthy environment,” he says. After-school programs, where children can spend up to seven hours in a day, can bridge those three points.
Boston educators and community leaders gathered at the Harvard Faculty Club Tuesday night (Oct. 29) to celebrate a new round of grants from Harvard that will strengthen Garvin’s triangle, forging stronger links among families, school, and after school, while connecting the University’s academic resources to city children. The Harvard After School Initiative’s Afterschool Bridging Program awarded $210,205 per year for two years to seven after-school programs in the Allston-Brighton, Mission Hill, and Fenway neighborhoods.
The grants will enhance and formalize the after-school programs’ ability to bridge the students’ in-school time and family concerns. Aligning after-school activities with school day curriculum, serving as a conduit for parent-teacher information and concerns, and utilizing the less structured environment of after-school programs to identify and address students’ general well-being are among the program’s goals.
“After school is a wonderful connector for school, for families, and for kids,” said Ellen McCarthy, principal of Brighton’s Hamilton Elementary School, one of the sites for the After School Program at Jackson/Mann Community Center, which received a grant. “The children who are in after school are stronger students because of it.”
Yet one of after school’s inherent strengths – its less structured environment – can also hinder its bridging efforts, said Gil Noam, associate professor of education at the Graduate School of Education (GSE) and associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital. The Afterschool Bridging Program will help after-school programs create dedicated staff time to link children’s school, after-school, and home experiences.
But the Bridging Program goes beyond money.
“We hope to change this historic disconnect between elite education schools and the world of practice and policy,” said GSE Dean Ellen Condliffe Lagemann. Lagemann joined Noam and Vice President for Government, Community and Public Affairs Alan Stone and Harvard Director of Community Relations Kevin McCluskey in making brief remarks that punctuated a spirited evening of networking among the grantees.
“We’re connecting the University’s intellectual power with the communities’ knowledge of families and kids,” Noam added. The Bridging Program will tap the research of Harvard’s Program in After School Education and Research (PAER), which Noam directs, to strengthen and enrich the unique curriculum offerings of the seven after-school programs. And the program also provides an opportunity for Harvard students – whether undergraduates doing public service or Education School students fulfilling curricular requirements – to gain valuable training.
Kristin Pineo, education director of the West End House Boys and Girls Clubs in Allston, has already put her organization’s Bridging grant to work, hiring an additional staff member to free her time to connect children, parents, teachers, and sometimes outside agencies.
“We’re creating a seamless web of services,” she said. If a student arrives at the West End House angry or frustrated, Pineo can talk to the parents about the child’s behavior at home and then, if necessary, contact outside agencies to address the child’s physical or mental health.
Thomas Regan, director of the After School Program at Jackson/Mann Community Center, said that while bridging is not a new concept, it’s one that could use structure and improvement.
“We’re not always sure what they’re learning in school,” he said, adding that it’s important that after school be connected to but distinct from the students’ school day. If they’re studying Native Americans in school, for instance, after school might leave the textbooks closed and do Native American crafts or games.
Having the time to reach out to in-school teachers has been invaluable, said Pineo of West End House. If a child is struggling with reading in the after-school program, she said, she can call the child’s teacher to ask what, specifically, the after-school tutors should work on.
“There’s nothing I take more joy in than to say to a kid, ‘hey, I talked to your teacher today,'” said Pineo. While it might strike fear into a student’s heart, she added, “they know that we’re caring.”