Students who live in medium to high poverty areas of Denver may have less access to after school programming.
That’s the picture drawn by the first release of data from Denver’s after school initiative. Officials caution that the data is not complete but say that it raises issues of how city services are distributed.
“It brings up questions of are the right services being provided to the right kids,” said Lisa Piscopo, director of research and analysis for the Office of Children’s Affairs. “Poverty is not equally distributed.”
The city’s data, which includes 100 separate locations with over 700 individual programs, will be used by the administration and providers to tailor after school programming to the students it serves. It was collected by the Denver Afterschool Alliance using its online program locator, which launched last month. Program providers who wish to be included in the locator provide information on what services they provide and the cost of those services.
This effort is part of an initiative by the alliance to track after school programs around the city. City leaders hope to use that information to find gaps between the needs of students and school-aged children and the services provided.
“Gaps mean one thing to us — lost opportunity,” said Mayor Michael Hancock last week at an event on the initiative. He hopes the data provided by the city will drive organizations to modify where and how they provide services, to help the most disadvantaged populations.
The Denver Office of Children’s Affairs, which is a member of the alliance and runs the locator, collected the information provided by participants and mapped it over various factors that affect students, including poverty and English language ability.
Maps provided by the Denver Office of Children’s Affairs show few programs in some neighborhoods of medium and high poverty, including central and far northeast Denver.
Notably, free programs and programs that offer food are not located those areas. In fact, many programs that would serve cash-strapped parents are in neighborhoods with low levels of poverty.
The city’s maps of where programs are located and what services they provide are available below. The city is also looking in to whether there are programs with a health component in neighborhoods with high obesity rates or in so-called “food deserts,” where few healthy food options are available.
Many cities track after school programming, according to a study commissioned by the Wallace Foundation, but less than a quarter of cities studied were undertaking the kind of comprehensive tracking and quality improvement that Denver has started on.
The Wallace Foundation says the three key components to after school coordination are: a central organizing entity, whether that’s the city or an independent nonprofit; a data system; and quality standards for participating programs.
Denver currently has the first two, with the recently launched online program locator and resulting data. The city is beginning work on quality standards although they don’t expect that work to be completed for quite a while.
Mayor Hancock has made education a major part of his program since coming into office. As a city council member, Hancock advocated for turnaround efforts in northeast Denver, including the Green Valley Ranch campus he and mayors from Sacramento, CA and Providence, RI toured last week.
The mayor’s participation marks a break from past city leaders, both in Denver and nation-wide.
“It is pretty unusual and typically mayors don’t get involved this,” said Van Schoales of A+ Denver, a local education advocacy group. Schoales also said that it can a risky decision politically for the mayor to become involved in something he has little control over.
As for the after school program coordination, Schoales believes it is an important area for the city to focus on but that good implementation of the city’s program is key.
“There’s enormous work to be done of coordination all these things and targeting these things,” said Schoales. “How well that will be done remains to be seen.”