Two needs assessments of child well-being in Collier County commissioned by NCEF in 2005 and 2010 found a significant gap in out-of-school time program services particularly for students in Immokalee. Out-of-school time programming has a very literal definition. If one thinks of the formal school day as seven hours delivered somewhere between 8am and 3pm, Out-of-School Time (OST) encompasses all programming that takes place outside those boundaries and is not part of the school system’s supported extra-curricular offerings.
The need is even greater in Immokalee where out-of-school programs are only reaching a fraction of the children most in need.
Child Trends reports that school engagement is on the decline. Researchers define school engagement in three domains: behavioral, emotional, and cognitive. Through survey data, parents suggest that only 39% of girls and 20% of boys are engaged in school. OST programs are actively identifying disengaged youth and developing specific programs and services to reconnect them to their school and community. Programs that offer sequenced, active, focused and explicit (SAFE) programming (Durlak & Weissberg, 2007) have been known to have significant effects on student engagement and other positive developments (Lippman & Rivers, 2008).
The Immokalee student demographic profile shows over 95% to be economically disadvantaged, 75% living in non-English speaking homes, 27% limited English proficiency, and 35% from migrant families. Immokalee families have a history of little academic or career success. Among adults 25 years of age or older, 56% have less than a ninth-grade education and only 16% have earned a high school diploma. Consequently, lacking family support and a vision of a future outside the Immokalee community, the current school population struggles to meet Florida’s academic standards and fails to see the education-career connection. Low performance levels discourage students, making them less likely to attempt challenging classes, and making graduation and matriculation into college or post-secondary training programs an almost insurmountable challenge.
Additionally, anecdotal evidence suggests that there is a much higher number of “latchkey kids” in Immokalee compared to the national average of 25%. Young people are open to experimentation and after-school hours and unoccupied weekends are times of risky and dangerous behavior. However, for Immokalee children, the OST need reaches far beyond providing a safe environment. Without the additional time and resources for academic support (including summer when learning loss of children from poverty far exceeds that of their peers), their opportunity for success is greatly diminished. All students can learn; time is the variable.
The Immokalee Out-of-School Time Initiative known as GPS (Great Programs Synergizing) is a consortium of out-of-school time providers collaborating to address the needs of at-risk students by leveraging resources, expanding capacity, providing academic safety nets, and offering enrichment opportunities. The programs provide safe, nurturing environments for children to thrive, delivering homework help, focused academic support, and programming designed to battle summer learning loss. Organizations that provide out-of-school programs are required to deliver high-level academic instruction with a blended culturally sensitive enrichment component. Motivated by overwhelming need, shared commitment to support healthy child development, and strong belief in the talents and resilience of Immokalee youth, NCEF identified a group of education leaders to develop responsive strategies.
Today, the vision and expertise of the GPS Leadership Team, the active participation of the Collier County Public Schools and the NCEF commitment to develop a prototype for transformational OST programs in Immokalee forms the triad for success.
To make high-quality, purposeful programs available to Immokalee at-risk students, GPS built a foundation of expansion and enhancement. The GPS delivery system includes the following key components:
A review of research suggests that a high-quality, out-of-school program or system does not operate in isolation (Vandell, Reisner, & Peirce, 2007). Using focused and intentional programming, engaging activities, and supportive staff, GPS is building the relationships that are necessary for an effective program. To this end, several partner organizations work together to deliver services in a comprehensive manner: Boys & Girls Club of Collier County, Collier County Parks and Recreation, Guadalupe Center, Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA), Southwest Florida Workforce Development Board, The Immokalee Foundation and United Arts Council of Collier County.
GPS organizations have based their work on cooperation, leveraging resources and developing leadership in students and staff. Over the past five years, GPS has changed the paradigm of OST operations by supporting a collective impact approach to serving the students of Immokalee. Each year, GPS organizations are increasingly motivated to innovate programs and address the needs of the most at-risk students.