Vermont Afterschool has developed an Afterschool Communications Toolkit to help afterschool leaders across the state connect with legislators and other policy makers. This toolkit expands upon the notion that in order to effect change, we must speak with one voice. This is also a great place to start for those of you who are looking to take action and communicate about your programs.
When crafting an argument for the value of afterschool programs, our natural tendency is to tell people about what we do. Although it is important to provide facts and details at this level, it is critical to begin with why afterschool and summer learning programs are essential. Our Afterschool Talking Points help to build this framework and can set the stage for a meaningful conversation. We also have specific Summer Learning Talking Points and STEM Talking Points to download as well.
In the U.S. today, more than 11 million children—1 in 5 youth—are on their own unsupervised after school. These children face numerous risks and challenges. They are also missing out on opportunities to learn and grow. Research shows that afterschool, summer learning, out-of-school time, and expanded learning programs offer a range of valuable benefits:
1. Inspiring Learners
High-quality afterschool programs can lead to improved attendance, behavior, grades and coursework.
Afterschool and summer programs are real solutions linked to closing the academic achievement gap and accelerating learning gains.
High-quality expanded learning programs connect youth to their communities and offer them the opportunity to engage with their local neighbors, businesses, and organizations.
2. Helping Working Families
Afterschool programs help relieve the stress on working families. In fact, parents miss an average of five days of work per year due to a lack of afterschool care.
81% of Vermont parents agree that afterschool programs give working parents peace of mind about their children when they are at work. For most families, there is a gap of 15-25 hours per week when parents are still at work and children are out of school and need supervision.
3. Keeping Kids Safe & Healthy
On school days, the hours between 3 and 6 p.m. are the peak hours for youth to commit crimes, be in or cause an automobile accident, be victims of crimes, smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs.
For every $1 spent on quality expanded learning opportunities, Vermont gets back $2.18 in long-term savings from reduced criminal activity and substance abuse treatment, as well as accruing benefits from increased high school graduation rates and work productivity.
Afterschool and summer programs are important venues for improving nutrition, providing access to healthy meals and snacks, and promoting physical activity.
4. Supporting Vermont’s Vision for Education
Project-based, service learning, and STEM programs cultivate career awareness, build 21st century skills, and support personalized learning plans.
Afterschool and summer learning programs are well positioned to provide youth, particularly those who are underserved and underrepresented, with opportunities to be college and career ready.
 Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., & Pachan, M. (2010). A Meta-Analysis of After-School Programs that Seek to Promote Personal and Social Skills in Children and Adolescents.  Vandell, D., Reisner, E., and Pierce, K. (2007). Outcomes Linked to High-Quality Afterschool Programs: Longitudinal Findings From the Study of Promising After School Programs.  Catalyst & Brandeis University. (2006). After-school Worries: Tough on Parents, Bad for Business.  Afterschool Alliance. (2014). America After 3PM: Afterschool Programs in Demand.  Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. (2006). OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book.  Vermont Afterschool. (2014). Return on Investment Study. Available at http://bit.ly/1zaTHp0.  Brand, A. and Valent, B. (2013). The Potential of Career and College Readiness and Exploration in Afterschool Programs.
Creating a One-Page Program Overview
Legislators and policy makers are often persuaded into action by hearing the details about what is happening within their own districts. Consider the highlights within your program and be prepared to speak to the following points. Putting together a one-page overview that captures these details is an effective way to communicate critical information. A one-page overview of your program will help to highlight the opportunities available for youth, the outcomes being realized, and the needs your program faces. It’s also a way to standardize how we present program information so that we are unified across the state; working together to communicate our unique messages and program information with clarity and consistency.
You will need to collect the following information for your one-page overview:
Types of programs offered
Positive outcomes seen within program
Program examples of engaged learning, school/community partnerships, and family engagement
Number of children and youth served
Number of low income children served
Number of children/youth on a waitlist and re-sources needed to serve those youth
Resources needed to build/sustain your program
Contact information for program and director
Templates for creating overview sheets are available as both Publisher and Word documents. These templates are meant to be a flexible document to be altered as each program sees fit. Please consider submitting completed overview sheets to Vermont Afterschool to be used as examples for programs across the state.
Create headings to make it easy for the reader to skim the page and understand the main points
Group common facts and figures together under a single heading
Use bullet points to organize your points
Add a candid photo that exemplifies learning in action, and don’t forget to include a caption with the photo along with a photo credit when necessary along with the proper photo release forms
Create a pie chart that communicates your funding sources along with a description of your financial needs
Creating an “Elevator Speech”
An “elevator speech” is a short statement of your mission, goals, and needs that could be delivered for the duration of an elevator ride. In other words, it’s a short and sweet pitch that gets right to the point if you only have a minute or two to talk! The purpose and intention of your elevator speech will depend on the audience, but hopefully you can craft a general script that will cover the basics and address:
Why are afterschool programs important for kids and communities?
How does your program address these needs?
What does your program do to affect change?
Ask for what your program needs to be successful.
Here are a couple of sample elevators speeches modeled by Barb Russ, director of Student Success–Winooski & Beyond, and Jeff Fournier, former director of Burlington Afterschool Programs. Note how Barb (video #1) and Jeff (video #2) get right to the point in speaking with a mock legislator, and how they report their successes in addition to communicating a very clear need. We’ve created a sample script that can help you write your own, and remember that your unique tone and message will translate into a more authentic delivery.
Attend the annual Vermont Afterschool & Summer Learning Day. This annual event at the State House provides a forum for afterschool program directors and staff to speak with their legislators about the important working taking place in afterschool and summer learning programs across the state.
Host a Lights On Afterschool Event.Lights On Afterschool is a national campaign held each fall to promote afterschool programs. Hosting a Lights On and/or an open-house event at your program is a great way to bring visibility to your program. Plus, fall is a great time to invite your legislators to visit!
Talk with your legislators. Knowing who your legislators are and developing relationships with them is a critical step in advocating for your program. Use the forums above (Vermont Afterschool & Summer Learning Day and Lights On) to talk with your legislators and invite them to visit your program. For a listing of Vermont legislators, see http://legislature.vermont.gov/people. Let us know how it goes and don’t be afraid to reach out if you need more support or coaching when it comes to communicating with policy makers.