Online Professional Learning and
Technical Assistance for
21st Century Community Learning Centers

Developing Partnerships That Mutually Benefit Wide-Ranging Partners and At-Risk Students

Y4Y recently reached out to Marcy Richards, 21st CCLC program manager for the highly diverse Anchorage School District, to share her expertise in developing partnerships that mutually benefit wide-ranging partners and her district’s at-risk students.

Y4Y: Can you share with us a little about the student population in your program, and the sites you operate?

MR: Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity to share what the Anchorage School District (ASD) 21st CCLC program is doing. We are very proud of the work we do and are passionate about changing the trajectory for our most at-risk youth in Anchorage.

ASD is the most diverse school district in the country, with over 100 languages spoken. Many of our sites have 19-22 languages spoken within them. Roughly 11% of our program population is homeless, 45% are English learners, and 28% fall under Indian Education. Our program is STEM based, and we are proud to include a 52% female student population. ASD 21st CCLCs provide afterschool programming Monday-Thursday, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., operating 101 program days per year at 11 sites for our elementary students from families with the lowest income. In those schools, the classroom teacher refers students who are struggling academically to our program.

Y4Y: Tell us about your professional background before you joined your 21st CCLC program.

MR: Before joining ASD 21st CCLC I worked in early childhood, camp and afterschool programs for a little over 5 years. Before that I worked in business management and marketing.

Y4Y: What drew you to shift gears and enter the world of education?

MR: I worked from home owning three businesses while my oldest daughter was preschool age. I sold the businesses when we moved to Alaska. When my second daughter was born, my family needed the income from me working. I had a hard time reconciling that my oldest had a stay-at-home mom experience and my second daughter wouldn’t. I took a position as a director at a combined preschool/childcare/afterschool/camp program where my daughter could attend. It was the best of both worlds: I was with her all day and I could work. I became very successful there. I increased our enrollment so much that we had to add three classrooms, including a capital project. My focus was on creating community. We wanted the center to be a meeting place for people to create their own extended families from friends their children had in school.

Y4Y: How would you say your unusual-to-21st CCLC background impacts your practice?

MR: I highly value community. I think that is what keeps people invested. Alaska is a very transient place. We have a lot of military and oil workers who are here for just a few years. Most people don’t have family here to support them. It’s a wonderful and difficult place to live, but to live here without family can be even more difficult. I think it’s vital to create your own community and build your own family from people you meet here. My background in the preschool solidified this belief. Providing opportunities for communities to be built is a wonderful aspect of 21st CCLC.

My background in business and marketing always has me looking for connections. What is it about our program that is unique? Why would people and businesses want to partner with us? For example, we have a partnership with LEGO® Education. We already had a robotics program and a partnership with FIRST® LEGO® League, which is focused on STEM. LEGO® Education wanted to provide professional development and resources for our program because of who we are serving. It’s very attractive to businesses, such as LEGO® Education, to be able to say they partner with the most diverse school district, serving the least represented, most at-risk youth. For them, if ASD 21st CCLC can do it, then other districts don’t have a reason not to participate. Add on top of that our weather in Alaska! It’s a win-win with LEGO bringing resources and increasing the capacity in our program.

Y4Y: You’ve shared with Y4Y audiences before about bringing your unique perspective to your current work and using your district partnerships to bring new and exciting resources to students. Can you explain the idea of “beta testing” to Y4Y readers and how it applies in your program?

MR: We serve a small subset of the elementary education department. For example, if Student Nutrition is looking to serve a fresh, plant-based snack to the students, it’s much easier for them to do a trial with our program participants than to go districtwide. We are happy to serve as a beta test for departments and businesses to try out a concept before making it available to a wider market. It keeps our program on the cutting edge, increases student involvement and interest, and allows for strong partnerships.

Y4Y: Can you elaborate on the kinds of things you’ve beta tested? Maybe you have an interesting anecdote to share?

MR: It was a big deal when LEGO® Education came up to Anchorage for the first time. We really wanted to maximize their impact. While they were here, they talked with early childhood departments and businesses and we had a social gathering for all the STEM-based programs to come and play with LEGOs and meet the visitors from LEGO® Education. We invited everyone in the Alaska robotic community to our training sessions and really opened the opportunity to the community that LEGO® Education was in our state. It was a wonderful way for us all to connect and build future resources.

Y4Y: For program managers who don’t have a marketing background, what advice do you have for developing partnerships like the ones you have forged?

MR: Try to think of connections. It’s just a natural thing for my mind to hear about my friend who needs a dog walker and then send her the name of a fabulous dog walker. Building partnerships is exactly the same thing, just on a broader scale.

Ask yourself “What makes your program special?” Do you serve a specific population? In a specific region? What are recurring challenges your students face? What makes your program special?

Ask yourself “What does your program need?” What do your students need? Think outside the box; what is the pie-in-the-sky, most amazing thing you can think of? Brainstorm, collaborate, survey — find out what your stakeholders want.

Then ask for it! “Sell” the idea of partnering to the organization, business or person you think would be best to provide this opportunity to your students. Why not envision working with someone national? International? Why not push your program to have the best and be on the cutting edge? There is good reason to shoot for the stars.

Y4Y: Any last thoughts or suggestions around 21st CCLC partnerships and securing resources for your students?

MR: I often hear people in the program complain that no one cares what they do since we aren’t part of the school day. I think you need to flip that around. You have such an amazing opportunity with 21st CCLC. We have so much more flexibility than the school-day teachers have to provide the MOST struggling students with interventions that they really need. The students are hungry to connect and be successful. You basically have a blank slate to make that happen. No one is micromanaging you or telling you how it needs to be done. You get to decide. That is powerful! Take advantage of that opportunity.