The field of afterschool and expanded learning has changed immensely since the first edition of the Beyond the Bell Toolkit in 2000. Today, the focus of afterschool and expanded learning is to provide enriching programming that supports academic, social, emotional, artistic, and physical growth—a place to learn science by collecting and studying bugs, learn mathematics by measuring ingredients in a cooking class, practice English language arts skills by writing and acting in a play, build teamwork skills on a soccer team, paint, learn fencing, and on and on. And we know that for these programs to make a real difference in young people’s lives and not merely be a safe alternative to being home alone, they must be of high quality. We said it then but can shout it from the rooftops now: high-quality afterschool and expanded learning programs provide an important educational and developmental setting for young people. Effective programs provide opportunities for young people to learn, develop, explore, and have fun. And as the national focus turns toward expanded learning time and opportunities, we know that well-structured and intentional programs can address the ever-growing achievement and opportunity gap for young people who live in poverty. Research has consistently shown us that afterschool and expanded learning programs can support school improvement efforts by providing additional opportunities for growth, the development of positive relationships, and exploration of youth interests that can lead to stronger educational outcomes. And programs are at their best when schools, families, community partners, and young people work together to create and support them.
Afterschool and expanded learning programs offer unequalled opportunities for young people, schools, and communities but can create challenges for those charged with operating them. Although more than a decade has passed since the first edition of this Toolkit, program leaders still face programmatic, governance, budgetary, and political questions that have no easy answers and require continued attention. Although the Beyond the Bell Toolkit does not provide all the answers, it does provide guidance to help program leaders leverage their abilities, assets, and insights to make the best decisions possible. The Toolkit is a resource that programs can use to support learning and success and fulfill the promise of high-quality afterschool and expanded learning programs.
We are grateful for the work of all the committed program leaders and staff members of afterschool and expanded learning programs throughout the United States and in the U.S. territories. We have tried to capture the good work you are doing for youth, their families, and their communities, and we appreciate your dedication to the task.
As the work of afterschool and expanded learning programs has grown and matured, so too has Beyond the Bell. Since the first edition of the Beyond the Bell Toolkit in 2000, users have shared with us many wonderful stories of how they have used and adapted the materials. Surveys of purchasers as well as many spontaneous comments at workshops and training sessions indicate that the Beyond the Bell Toolkit has been extremely helpful in operating afterschool and expanded learning programs throughout the United States.
As with the previous editions, this fourth edition reflects the field as it has developed across time. The biggest change, we are happy to report, is in how the field has embraced quality standards and continuous improvement processes in a variety of ways—from self-assessments to coaching models—to help build a stronger awareness of (1) what a high-quality afterschool and expanded learning program is and (2) how to move purposefully toward a higher level of quality.
With that said, we have revised the Toolkit with an eye toward helping program leadership adopt a model of continuous improvement. Some other new and exciting topics covered in this edition of the Beyond the Bell Toolkit are as follows: (1) conducting a market analysis and identifying assets and needs; (2) partnering with the school, families, and the community; (3) the Common Core State Standards and what they mean for afterschool and expanded learning; (4) youth development principles and practices; (5) updated communication strategies using social media; (6) additional program types, such as creative arts, health and wellness, and personal and social skills; and (7) using your evaluation for continuous improvement.
We have always thought of the Beyond the Bell Toolkit as a resource primarily for managers of afterschool and expanded learning programs—at both the program and site levels. However, we know how important it is to involve stakeholders at every level, and with that in mind, we continue to develop tools and materials that help build a stronger staff and stakeholders. We know it is important for programs to build on the assets (i.e., strengths) of youth, their families, and community members. The Toolkit discusses key decision points, offers criteria for decision making, suggests effective strategies, and provides a set of tools to assist in making decisions in the continuous quality improvement process. The tools help with data gathering, provide formats for analyzing information, structure dialogue about important issues, and assist with information sharing.
We want to make sure you don’t have to reinvent the wheel or do everything alone, and we strongly encourage you to share information. From the very beginning, we recommend at least forming a planning committee, if not a full advisory board, to help you think through important decisions for the program. And as your program grows and matures, there will be sections you’ll want to share with different staff members who have been hired to help you run the program.
We often hear the question, “The Toolkit focuses a lot on youth development principles and practices, but my program is focused just on academics. Should I still be thinking about all this information?” In a word, yes. As we mentioned previously, we now have evidence that all programs, regardless of content, should incorporate positive youth development. Even if you are working in an academically focused expanded learning program, incorporating the information found in the section on Program Delivery will help your program retain participants, offer academically enriching activities that are fun, and allow young people to explore their interests and succeed in school and in life.
Although we have designed the Toolkit to be an easy-to-use, stand-alone resource, we also offer training on how to best use the information and the tools. You can find out more about our standard trainings and how to contact us on our website.
We want the tools in the Beyond the Bell Toolkit to be useful and practical. With that in mind, we are pleased to offer all the tools in Microsoft Word format. All tools can be found in the online Toolbox and can be manipulated, edited, or simply used as is.
*This online Toolkit is adapted from Beyond the Bell: A Toolkit for Creating Effective Afterschool and Expanded Learning Programs (Fourth Edition, 2014) by Carol McElvain, Deborah Moroney, Elizabeth Devaney, Jaime Singer, and Jessica Newman.