“Bridging the Bay” conference teaches the benefits of after-school programs

Joe Hudson, Program Manager for Region 4 After-school Programs for the Alameda County Office of Education and one of the "Bridging the Bay" After School Program Conference visionaries.

Joe Hudson, program manager for after-school programs in regioin four, for the Alameda County Office of Education, speaks at the podium. Hudson is also one of the "Bridging the Bay" After-School Program Conference visionaries.

Hundreds of after-school program coordinators and instructors from seven Bay Area counties gathered Friday and Saturday at Oakland Technical High School for a conference focused on improving the quality and range of regional after-school programs.

The second annual “Bridging the Bay” event offered more than 90 workshops on a variety of subjects, including one on ways to implement science and engineering activities with a career focus, and another on how to meet the needs of elementary school students with limited English proficiency.

“After school programs are one of the most cost-effective ways to keep kids safe,” said Joe Hudson of the Alameda County Office of Education, “as well as expanding opportunities for kids to learn relevant skills that can be used for both educational and vocational pursuits.”

Hudson said after-school programs in the Bay Area are offered on average three to four hours a day, 180 days a year.  That adds up to almost 90 days of extra instruction. Programs can provide the arts education many schools cut due to budget constraints, encourage school-day attendance, and help students graduate by offering for-credit courses and homework assistance.

“After school is not about being a separate thing, it’s about supporting school-day goals but not doing it in the same way,” Hudson said.  “During the school day you get theory and content. After school gives you time for practical application.”

Publicly funded after-school programs in California are better off than programs in other states. As a result of 2002’s Proposition 49, California sets aside $550 million for after-school programs each year. The state also receives $200 million in federal funds. Still, Hudson said, “We are not even serving anywhere near the potential we have to serve students in California.”

500 students use Oakland Tech’s tutorial center everyday, said Hudson, which is 200 percent more than the school receives funds for. With demand for spaces – in the region’s public after-school programs – exceeding supply, some counties have to turn students away, especially at the elementary school level, Hudson said.

The average elementary school receives $112,500 in grant funds, which is designed to serve 84 students, said Hudson. But the typical Bay Area elementary school has 400-500 students. With people tightening their own budgets – choosing public programs over private ones – and with funds for parks and recreation services and other nonprofit after-school programs dissolving, state programs are becoming flooded.

One possible solution, Hudson says, is to tap into the private sector and create public-private partnerships.

“We can’t keep going to the taxpayers and parents,” Hudson said. “We have to turn to where the resources are in society.”

While some after-school programs teach job skills, local businesses could help shape new programs to fit their needs.  This would provide the businesses with a qualified local applicant pool for future jobs, Hudson said. In addition to bettering programs, the conference also demonstrates to financiers that after-school programs are accountable for their funding, Hudson said.

“Bridging the Bay” is funded by several school districts, private education-focused companies, and the Alameda County Office of Education, which is responsible for the technical training and oversight of after-school programs in seven Bay Area counties. Until “Bridging the Bay,” Hudson said, regional after-school professionals faced the decision as to whether to spend some of their limited resources to travel to conferences.

Somneng Chen, the site coordinator for after-school programs at San Kofa Academy, attended “Bridging the Bay” with her seven staff members, who split up among the different workshops. On the first day, Chen took part in a workshop on building skills through movement, which she said would help her to work with students with attention disorders. On the second day she attended a workshop focused on strategies for talking to students on a one-to-one level, which can sometimes be overwhelming, she said.

One of the biggest problems Chen deals with is parents removing their children from after-school programs early, before the end of the day’s activities, she said.  It can disrupt the student’s learning and she has noticed when students come back, they feel excluded or exclude themselves. In the future, Chen said she would like to see a workshop about working with challenging and absentee parents.

“After-school programs are not just free day care,” she said.  “But that’s how they’re often treated.”

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