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Partnership for Youth Development works to extend success beyond the classroom

New Orleans has become a hotbed of educational reform. Foundations and academics from around the country are focused on our city’s classrooms. The Partnership for Youth Development, however, is concerned with what children do after the school bell rings. The local group, formerly known as The Afterschool Partnership of Greater New Orleans, works to provide all children with activities that both enrich their lives and support their education. Executive Director Gina Warner spoke to New Orleans Living magazine about the increasing out-of-school opportunities for our city’s children.

How important are after-school programs to children’s success?

There is a ton of research that supports the benefits of after-school, out-of-school and summer activities to improve kids academically, socially and emotionally. But we just start by asking professionals, ‘What did you do after school?’ If you ask me, I was very active in student government, 4-H and my high school band. The experiences where I was given leadership challenges and where I had to negotiate with my peers happened through these clubs and activities.

Do most people recognize the benefits of these programs?

If you asked middle-income or upper-income children what they do after school, I can promise you it’s ballet, karate, art, French. And why do they do that? Because their parents believe that it makes them well-rounded and more competitive for college. So why shouldn’t all kids, regardless of income level and regardless of where they live in the city, have access to those opportunities? That’s really what we work towards.

How many children in New Orleans have access to these programs?

About 30 percent of our public school students have access to these opportunities. Compared to other urban areas, we’re pretty much in line.

Why is it so crucial to provide children with enriching activities during the summer?

The research shows that by the time lower income students are in the fifth grade, they can be two and half years behind their peers. That is fully attributable to summer loss, in other words not having any academic exposure during the summer. As a community we need to become more aware of that. We need to focus in the next few years on really bolstering our summer opportunities.

Are educators aware of the importance of these out-of-school programs?

I think they are. But being a former teacher myself, I’m very sensitive to the fact that educators have a lot of demands on their time. Most educators do welcome a well-trained and well-experienced after-school professional working with their kids. They recognize that it’s all about differentiated learning: some kids learn better with books and some kids learn better moving around and doing things.

We hear so much about educational reform. Do out-of-school activities come up in those conversations?

A lot of education reform, particularly in New Orleans, has been focused on the classroom and the governance structure. Now we’re at the point where we’ve seen some success with our efforts, and I think it’s the time to ask how we extend that success beyond the classroom.

What are the main ways that the Partnership for Youth Development creates these out-of-school opportunities?

We really work at the intermediary level. We’re like the Chamber of Commerce for after-school programs. We do a lot of training. We do a lot of on-site technical assistance with programs in the field. What do they need help with? What resources do they need? We do a lot of advocacy and policy work. How do we make sure that we have adequate public dollars to run our programs? How many kids do we want to serve and how much money do we need?

What resources do you offer to parents?

We built and operate an online youth resource, NOLAYouthMap.org. It lists all the resources in the city for young people and children. It’s a very useful tool for parents who are looking for, say, a basketball camp or maybe a tutoring program.

What is the long-term outlook? Will we eventually get enough out-of-school programs to address the needs of local youth?

I think we have a huge opportunity with the new governance structure of NORD, with new public dollars and hopefully with the NORD foundation bringing in private dollars. The summer after the storm we had two NORD sites open. This past summer we had in excess of 30 with five teen camps. We are making progress there. It’s gradual. But I see a lot of opportunity. And I’m optimistic about it. We’ve come a long way in nearly six years.

For information about the Partnership for Youth Development, visit nolayouth.org.

– TODD A. PRICE