21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) grants assist with enrichment programs for outside of school time. Subjects include math, reading, science, technology and youth development to support classroom instruction during the school day. Activities occur before school, after school, and/or during summer, intercessions or holiday breaks. Title IV, Part B, of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act authorizes federal funding to state departments of education, who in turn award these grants to schools and other entities. Grant programs focus on students attending low-performing schools; 40 percent or more of students must qualify for free or reduced meals. What goes into winning this funding? Here are ten tips to guide you.
- Read everything available about the grant funding in your state. Read and re-read the grant application guidance, highlighting important things to remember. Search for past funded 21st CCLC grants to review, often available to the public on state department of education websites. Find newspaper articles such as this one describing successful out of school time programs.
- Gather data to make an impactful need statement. This includes current enrollment, demographics, free/reduced student lunch counts, academic indicators, completed needs assessments, and school improvement plans. Describe achievement gaps. How are the needs of students on the fringe of meeting academic standards being addressed at the school site? When describing the need for the grant program, focus on each school and surrounding neighborhood instead of only state, city, or county statistics. Provide truancy, discipline, teen pregnancy, dropout, adult literacy, socioeconomic, drug use, health, and community crime statistics. How are these risk factors affecting students? Why do students at your school need out of school programming? Share sad stories! Provide a sense of your school neighborhood and your families. Choose 3 to 4 highest priority risk factors and align them to your grant program plan.
- Utilize program planning tools from your state or other states to help guide the grant process. Arizona provides downloadable documents such as a partner planning tool, budget planning tool, and program planning tool here. Use these tools with the grant team, and adjust them as needed. Create your own form such as a simple table with the headings: Information Needed or Task, Person Responsible, and Date Completed.
- Create a strong evaluation section. Avoid only listing or discussing instruments used; instead, clearly elaborate on the methods and procedures used in evaluating the program. How will family engagement be measured? What is the specific timeline as to how often meetings will occur and data will be analyzed? Who will the evaluation team be within the school, and how are they qualified? How will in-school data be used to refine, improve, and drive programming?
- Provide a specific professional development plan. Detail a training plan for 21st CCLC staff instead of only a list of topics to be addressed. How will partners (subject matter experts) be involved in planning and providing professional development?
- Make the program fun and inviting for students and families. Put your passion and creativity into this section. How will you sell and explain this innovative program to staff, students, and families? Find some ideas here. What will make students want to attend rather than stay home or hang out with friends after school? Provide a clear, specific plan of how the site coordinator/principal will recruit and retain students, adult family members, and teachers in the 21st CCLC program. What public forums will you hold about the program; when and where will they be held? How will you promote a 21st CCLC school culture in supporting a strong future for students?
- Connect and elaborate on goals. Create a logic model to help guide the grant writing project, and ensure every part of the proposal matches that logic model. Provide a map or schematic. Don’t leave any questions unanswered in the reviewer’s mind, and strive for a proposal that reads like a well-played symphony.
- Create Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely (SMART) objectives. SMART guidance helps you write objectives correctly. Download Writing SMART Outcome Objectives under “Downloadable Tools” on the Arizona Department of Education webpage. Here is an example of one of the department’s SMART objectives: “The percentage of regular attendees who meet or exceed the AzMERIT Math Standard will increase 10 percent by the end of the school year.”
- Address every suggested improvement in this year’s application. If you have reviewer feedback from past failed applications, rewrite the comments into question format for school site applicants to answer. Try making a checklist of all items that need to be addressed.
- Remember the three magic budget words: reasonable, allowable and allocable. Download the Cost Principles Matrix in the “Downloadable Tools” section of the Arizona Department of Education CCLC webpage.
Wake up the reviewer with your application. Enjoy putting creativity into your 21st CCLC grant, and make teaching fun. Good luck!