Georgia’s First After School and Youth Development Conference

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John LashThe first Georgia After School and Youth Development Conference is taking place in Athens, Ga. January 9 – 11. The event was organized by GUIDE, Gwinnet United in Drug Education, Inc., and supported by the state’s Department of Human Services, the Governor’s Office for Children and Families, and the Department of Education. I was fortunate to be able to attend part of the conference on Thursday, and to sit down with a few of the presenters.

The focus of the conference, embodied in the theme “Together towards Tomorrow,” is a set of unified standards for after school and summer programs that will enable the government, providers, and grant makers to make decisions based on the latest evidence about what really works. Collaboratively developed by several government and nonprofit agencies over nearly a year, the standards are comprised of eight Quality Elements:

  • Programming and Activities
  • Linkages with the School Day
  • Health, Nutrition and Physical Fitness
  • Environment and Climate
  • Relationships, Culture and Diversity
  • Staffing and Professional Development
  • Organizational Practices
  • Evaluation and Outcomes

Each of these elements are viewed as important in developing programs that are engaging, mesh with and support school activities, develop skills outside the scope of the school curriculum and that rely on evidence-based practices and measurable outcomes of targeted traits.

Thursday morning Judge Steven Teske (a frequent contributor to JJIE) spoke to the gathering about the innovative approach Clayton County has taken to reduce the number of kids declared delinquent. A big part of his talk focused on the negative outcomes of youth involvement with police and courts. The deeper into the system the kid goes, from handcuffing to incarceration, the odds of dropping out of school and participating in future crimes goes up.

Another speaker I was able to sit down with was Jill Riemer, Executive Director of the Georgia Afterschool Investment Council. GAIC is a nonprofit whose mission is to increase the quality and availability of after school programs around the state. They serve as a resource for programs of all types, and provide networking, training, curriculum development, and other assistance.

GAIC played a role in the creation of the state wide standards and Jill was excited to see the level of energy that was palpable among attendees. There are thousands of programs around the state and it is difficult to track what they do and how effective they are. The common standards are a huge step towards increasing the effectiveness of programs and allowing those with the mission of supporting such programs a way to decide where and how to invest their resources.

Now the concern for kids that motivates so many of those who attended the conference will be augmented by tools that will help them select what really works.

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