How to Start and Run an Out-of-School Time (OST) Program
Out-of-School Time (OST) programs promise a wealth of benefits, but many that go ahead without proper planning end up contributing to a body of ambiguous evidence that suggests a lot of the desired outcomes are not met.
Ultimately, if the positive outcomes of OST programs are not consistently realized, trust in them diminishes, emphasizing a need for proper planning and organized execution in the implementation of these programs every time. In this piece, we’ll look at some of the ways to properly prepare for your OST program and how to put it all into action.
Before you Start an Out-of-School Time Program
Funding and support are going to be two of your key struggles when starting an OST program. This is where your research and planning (that we will discuss below) stages are so important.
Remember, there are growing levels of distrust in afterschool programs, this comes from improper planning that leads to the misuse of resources. So, before getting started, you’ll want to fully form the idea so that it can be framed appealingly to the stakeholders you’ll need on your side to get everything off the ground.
You need to know what you’re hoping to achieve with this program before you can get to work designing and running it. Consider the problems you’re trying to overcome for your participants, consider the causes of these problems, and look at specifically how what you’re planning to do will hopefully address these.
Before you even get started, a needs analysis might be in order. There is a lot of talk about whether these programs are effective, and much of it stems from poorly-considered programs that don’t meet the needs of those attending and are therefore a waste of resources. This means you’ll have to come into this with an understanding of not only what you want to happen, but what needs to happen to benefit your target demographics.
Then, you’ll have to identify the network you'll need on your side and figure out if they’re anywhere near close to supporting your ideas already. This will help you determine readiness, and it’s going to be a critical component to getting the support you need. Other questions that need answering to determine readiness will be:
You’ll want to answer all these questions (and more) to establish the highest readiness you can before bringing other people into the mix. Essentially, there will be a point at which your project will need to be judged by those who can make it happen, and the more evidence you have on your side, the better your chances will be. Going in unprepared will be a dealbreaker for many key players.
Having a strong impression of your goal is one thing, but you’ll want to have a decent roadmap to success at the start in order to engage the supporters you’ll need to implement the program sustainably. If you’re not ready, it’s a bad idea to move forward!
How to Start an OST Program
Obviously, the finer details of your vision and the context of your preferred program will be all down to you, but there is a general formula to follow to start an OST program, and we’ve broken it down into five major steps. Let’s take a look:
Step 1: Formulate the Idea and Build a Roadmap
At this stage, it’s important to get a team together that represents as many of the stakeholders as possible. These may be families, students, school administrators, community partners, and others; the important thing is getting feedback from all sources as a way of forming the idea into a realistic plan of action.
If you’ve put the groundwork in as we suggest, this stage will be mostly about tailoring the overall plan into something more specific and appealing.
Things to take into account here are whether the setting is appropriate to the level of development of the attendees, what sort of funding options might be available, and what you’re able to get for your money. While practical considerations are critical, it’s also important here to identify what your kids are going to consider valuable and align that with your desired outcomes of the program.
Do all this with a mixture of meetings, surveys, and other outreach, and make use of the resources you have to hand while exploring other systems and networks that might be useful. By the end of it, you should have a sequential map of tasks and deliverables to work on.
Step 2: Location and Regulations
Somewhere around this time, you’ll be identifying possible locations for your program, and this will come with the added complication of local regulations and restrictions. States will vary in their requirements for OTC programs, so it’s important you reach out and collaborate with someone who can advise you on what you need in this regard. Contact the state’s licensing agency and, if you’re going for private funding, find out what the caveats regarding that are, too.
Start forming relationships and build your network of collaborators and supporters at this stage. Schools can make good partners, as can other areas of learning such as juvenile systems or other allied youth areas. This will come in handy later, when it’s time to recruit students and staff for the program, and it’ll also improve engagement and exposure to resources across the board.
Step 3: Business Plan and Policy
You’re going to want to compile everything you’ve established in your focus groups and research into a well-woven plan of action in the form of a business plan. Here you’ll identify what the industry is lacking, and how your organization is set up to address this.
Include your mission statement early on and then go on to support it with the relevant data and market analysis. Follow that up with organizational information about the structure of your project, and how the key players will form an effective team to achieve your desired outcomes.
When this is complete, work on your internal policies and protocols too. You’ll want to know what to do in every case, as it relates to enrollment, staffing, engagement, marketing, health and safety, and transportation, among others. Make sure you have a robust system of reporting and policies around how to respond to reports too.
Step 4: Bring in the Right Resources and Technology to Help you Run the Program
There are numerous ways in which your available tech can help you in all this. For example, Curacubby offers a solution to running any kind of OST program, by bringing registration, invoicing, payments, attendance, reporting, and stakeholder communications channels together in one handy dashboard.
Leveraging this as a complete management platform is a great way to streamline the entire process, particularly after the planning stages, where it’s so important to get and keep everyone on board and up-to-date.
When you start an OST program, your tech can mean all the difference between success and failure, so be sure to lean on it where you need to. Also, look out for valuable resources from qualified sources to help you navigate the best practices and ways forward for running your specific type of OST Program.
Step 5: Continuous Improvement
Upon successful completion of the program, there is more work to be done. Analyzing what worked and what didn’t is the key to making the changes needed to ensure the longevity and future success of your programs.
Again, this is something your platform can help you with, and will depend on the specific desired goals of your program in the first place. Stakeholder debriefings and follow-up meetings are so good for this kind of post-event research, and all it takes is a little self-reflection to quickly identify where you need to change course and where you can double down.
If you’re looking to start an Out-of-School time program, it’s mostly a matter of preparation. Without the proper planning at the start, stakeholder buy-in is going to become a challenge, and without knowing the needs of your target demographics intimately, you’re also likely to be wasting resources even if you do get it off the ground.
Both of these considerations result in an unsustainable effort, so getting the plan down is the most important step. From there, it’s a matter of leveraging your funding options and network and keeping everyone in the loop with handy platforms like Curacubby.