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Program Design, Development, and Quality

How to Keep Applications from Keeping Kids Out

application process

When I write a blog it’s usually when I’ve reached a point where I’ve figured something out, or at least enough about something to feel that I’m ready to share “what works.”

This time I am trying something different. I am writing because I have a question that I don’t know the answer to and a challenge that I am trying to figure out.

We all have to administer paperwork in our after-school programs. We need the families of our kids to complete applications for a variety of reasons—gather medical information, evaluate our work, ensure the safety of the kids in our programs, and secure funding. At Techbridge we are also involved in a project that requires institutional review board (IRB) approval, which adds even more paperwork to the mix. What started out 15 years ago as a relatively short and simple process has grown into a longer and more complicated application process for the parents of the youth we serve.

Today, we are looking to work with new partners in new communities.

We are partnering with a new school this year and the experience is raising questions that we don’t have the answers for. Our application process is proving to be a road block to the participation of many of the girls that we most want to serve. We have tried strategies including offering incentives for returning forms, but they aren’t working. We have reached a point where until they bring in completed forms, girls can’t continue in Techbridge. For fourth and fifth graders, this seems like a tough consequence for actions that are outside their control.

Our partner at the school welcomes our program and understands our need to get parent permission forms returned. She also shares that the challenge isn’t just one for Techbridge, but across school and afterschool programs. I appreciate her support and also understand that these challenges make it harder and take more time for our Program Coordinator to support this program.

I have more questions than answers at this time and recognize that I have a lot to learn.

I invite you to share with us your experience supporting afterschool programs in schools and communities that face significant challenges and experience economic hardships. How do we engage with the community to better understand the challenges and needs of families? What are you doing to make your application process family-friendly? What works and why? And just as important, what have you tried that didn’t work and how did you adapt your process? Often, we share our “effective practices” all wrapped up tidily in a blog or article without information on how we arrived at our successes and what failures we learned from. I expect that some of the messy work that you faced getting through the challenges involved working with school partners and families.

For breakfast I had homemade chicken soup. My 88-year-young mother is visiting from Cleveland and keeping busy cooking and baking. I love her!

Author: Linda Kekelis

Linda Kekelis is Executive Director of Techbridge, a program that inspires girls in science, technology, and engineering.  With over 20 years’ experience designing and leading girls’ programs, Linda participates in advisory boards, collaborates with girl-serving organizations, and works with professional groups and corporate partners to promote females’ participation in science, technology, and engineering.  She conducts research, participates in national conferences, and writes, translating research into practical applications for educators, professionals, and parents. She has a doctorate in special education from the University of California, Berkeley.


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