Oct 11, 2021

How do Community Organizations Support COVID-19 Recovery Efforts? Introducing the Intermediary Insights Series

Kids Playing outside

By Ebony Lambert, National Comprehensive Center 

Partnerships between school districts and community organizations continue to play an invaluable role in supporting students and families who are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and school closures. Here, we share insights from Out of School Time (OST) and Extended Learning Opportunity (ELO) intermediaries about how they’ve worked with schools and communities to support students, families, and educators in the midst of the pandemic. 

 

Nationwide, approximately 7.7 million students attend after-school programs every day. These programs take a range of formats. High-quality OST and ELO providers offer supports and opportunities for students outside of traditional school hours. OST opportunities tend to be academic in nature (like after school tutoring) or enrichment-based (like arts courses). ELOs provide students with structured learning opportunities outside of the regular school day (like expanded school years or summer and winter school sessions).  

Quality OST/ELO providers serve as powerful tools to support resource and health equity. Many also support student nutrition and physical health by providing nutritious foods and opportunities for physical activity. In the context of COVID-19, OST/ELO programs have been particularly influential, providing a set of flexible, customized, and equitable learning approaches that bring educators, communities, and families together to support student needs. 

Outside of individual provider networks, intermediaries connect OST/ELO providers to each other, communities, families, and other stakeholders.  They build the infrastructure that ensures school access to grassroots providers and opportunities, connecting communities with much-needed services and resources. 

As the 2021-22 school year got underway in communities across the country, we sat down with high-quality OST/ELO intermediaries to learn more about their work and to hear their reflections on lessons learned in 2020-21 that school districts and community organizations can use this fall. In our conversations, intermediaries shared that their work this past year involved: 

  • Developing and strengthening infrastructure to meet the needs of students and families 

  • Collaborating and aligning with school districts, community based-programs, and public and governmental agencies to support distribution of resources to organizations closest to communities 

  • Adapting and refining equity frameworks to garner support of the communities that were hardest hit by the pandemic 

Below are some key takeaways from our conversations. 

Aligning partnerships between school systems, other community partners, and intermediaries requires deep collaboration. The pandemic has created a unique window of opportunity.

“With COVID-19, we were in a position where out-of-school time was all the time for our partners. They went from being extended day/after school programs to primary service providers. 

At The Opportunity Project, we were trying to figure out how to be a conduit for community partners to receive federal dollars to provide supports for our communities. We ended up needing to garner support to represent all of us collectively with the Board of County Commissioners to put forth a plan that allowed us to get those dollars and reimburse partners for the care that they were providing all day, every day for kids during distance learning.

We were able to get letters of support from not only the Tulsa school district here, but the surrounding district superintendents and other community organizations as well, to support our efforts. They recognized that our kids and families are struggling and we need to have places for them to go. So the pandemic really forced community partners to work together in ways that they had never worked together before.”  
-Caroline Shaw, executive director, The Opportunity Project 

Building and maintaining trust takes time and intentionality but is imperative to this work. 

“You build trust over years. The Providence After School Alliance (PASA) was founded after year-long community conversations. We went through an entire process to build the brand and to really act as an intermediary to cultivate trust. So we don't just provide the programs ourselves, we fund community-based organizations, artists, independent practitioners, and teachers as partners who are engaged in the community to run programs to make sure we are staying relevant. We also cut ties, eventually, when we don’t see that commitment. If partners are not committed to the continuous quality improvement that our students deserve, we work with them to build that ethos. However, if over time that commitment to continuous improvement does not develop for the partner, then they're not right for us.”  
-Ann Durham, executive director, PASA 

Intermediaries play an important role in protecting the livelihood of community-based organizations.  

“Our community partners historically have deep and rich relationships with families in the community and they were in danger of losing that, not just because of the pandemic but because they were going to have to close. We recognized that there's nothing that kids need more right now than a consistent, caring adult in their lives, and if there was a way we could maintain that consistency, then that was our role. So we went to the philanthropic community, not for dollars, necessarily, but to remind them that they support these community organizations on an annual basis as grantees and they will not be there to grant anymore if we don’t work to support them now.”  
-Caroline Shaw, executive director, The Opportunity Project 

Up next in this series, we’ll share in-depth Q&As from leading OST/ELO organizations about their work, experiences, challenges, and expertise in the field.