Blog Entry Education, Youth Development

December 2016 Member Spotlight: After School Matters in Chicago

The Campaign for Black Male Achievement has always been a proponent of comprehensive and cross-collaborative approaches to educating Black men and boys, which is why our final spotlight of the year focuses on the work being led by the Chicago-based organization After School Matters. For 25 years, After School Matters has provided life-changing after-school and summer program opportunities to more than 200,000 Chicago high school teens over the course of its operation. With a comprehensive focus on high school excellence, college-readiness and beyond, After School Matters has built out a unique model that has proven to be successful in making a demonstrable impact on the life outcomes of city students, including Black male youth.

For our December Member spotlight, we got to speak with Adrienne Scherenzel-Curry, After School Matters' Chief Program Officer, about the organization's ongoing initiatives, and how they see themselves contributing to the broader Black Male Achievement movement. 

Can you share just a bit about your own background – what ultimately lead you to After School Matters?

ADRIENNE: Before I worked at After School Matters, I worked with Chicago Public Schools in the department of early college and career education, which is where I got to learn a lot about high school youth and really speaking to the options and opportunities that they have. Prior to that I worked for the School District of Philadelphia.

What I really loved about the mission of After School Matters was that, for myself, I found the work that I did after school while in high school really affected where I landed later on. It’s one of these areas where you really can’t underestimate how the programming and relationships you have after school can change your life. For so many, it's a time when they really come into their own and get to have a positive relationship with adults, which they may or may not have the opportunity to do in the actual school setting.

What is the mission of After School Matters, and how is it achieving that mission?

The mission of After School Matters is to provide Chicago Public High School teens with opportunities to explore and develop their talents while gaining critical skills for work, college, and beyond. One of the things that we always say at After School Matters is that we're not school, so what happens here is a different structure and feel from what school is. This is really an area where we want youth to dig into any talents they might have, explore different areas they might like, and be exposed to different things that they may not have an opportunity to in their regular school day.

We do that by providing thousands of opportunities throughout the year; this year we'll provide around 24,500 opportunities for youth to participate in after school programming throughout the city. We offer programs in every kind of genre you could think of, and really try to think of programs that the youth want to engage in. If they want to do skateboarding, we have programs around skateboarding. We also have a lot of dance and cooking programs. All kinds of things that teens can get involved in to either explore what they're already passionate about, or something where they can bring out a passion that they haven't explored themselves yet. 

How has After School Matters’ comprehensive model and approach helped you all to create impact for the young people you serve?

ADRIENNE: This year is our 25th year of programming, so we've served over 200,000 youth at this point. When After School Matters initially started, we really had what you would call a “drop-in” model. For example, if you want to do some painting, we'll be here on Wednesday through Thursday and you can drop in when you feel like it. However, we've really moved away from that to try to provide programming for more of a prescribed amount of time that youth are with us. We're really thinking about the amount of hours that they're with us, not only because we want to see that their skills in an area are improved, but we also want to see that they have more time with positive adults who are really passionate about different areas, whether it's cooking or engineering. So now they're having more time with that adult and with other teens that have similar passions. 

How does your organization measure its impact? Do you use quantitative research, qualitative research, or both?

ADRIENNE: It's a combination. We’ve looked at best practices that are out there but we also look at the data and feedback that we have with our own teens as well. We collect all kinds of data around teens and their attendance, how many times do they return, different programs that they might take, as well as demographic data -- where they're coming from, what part of town are they from? Do they complete the program? Do they only do two weeks, or do they stay the entire time?

We also have every program evaluated through the Weikart Center's youth program quality assessment to look at how our programs are performing compared to other organizations, and also looking at best practices for how an after school program should be set-up. In addition, we have surveys that are given to the teens to let us know how they feel and if they've grown in that program, and if they feel like it was a worthwhile experience for them.

What do you think are the benefits of being part of the CBMA membership network for your organization?

ADRIENNE: It's inspiring to be part of a movement. I think this movement is so necessary right now and one that we really want to support because we see that where we fit in at the high school stage, there are a lot of benefits for us being part of this network because we're able to provide opportunities and stop some of the downward trajectory that a lot of Black males find themselves in. This is an issue that people are struggling with throughout the country and I think in Chicago it absolutely is no different here. Some of our partner organizations are also part of this network, so I think it can also help us come up with strategies to make sure that we can support this movement and be a part of a larger push to really change the trajectory for Black males in the United States.

In your own words, what does Black male achievement mean to you?

ADRIENNE: What we want, and what everybody wants, is to see that Black males are achieving just like their peers regardless of their gender or race. What I want for my own daughter is what I want for Black males as well. It's the exact same thing. When we really think about different groups getting ahead, it doesn't help unless you reach back and try to make sure everybody is moving forward and really moving ahead. With Black male achievement there's a lot of work that still needs to be done, and we think of ourselves as being part of the solution.

You can learn more about After School Matters at www.afterschoolmatters.org, as well as follow them on Twitter @AftrSchoolMttrs, and "Like" them on Facebook at facebook.com/AfterSchoolMatters.

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