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A new report shares lessons from national experts on how to best expand access to high-quality after-school programs, and emphasizes the important role of cities in providing these programs, particularly in high-poverty neighborhoods.

Committed leadership, data-sharing and citywide collaboration between program providers are the keys to more and better programs for youth, according to Better Together: Building Local Systems to Improve Afterschool. The report, released on Tuesday and funded by The Wallace Foundation, is based on best practices shared at a conference that took place in Baltimore in February. Representatives from more than 50 communities, including Contra Costa County, Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco, participated in the conference.

Good after-school programs have both strong academic offerings plus enriching experiences such as drama, debate, dance, robotics and chess, said Robert Balfanz, principal research scientist at Johns Hopkins University. They are particularly important for students in high-poverty communities, he said, because they offer those youth a chance to move quickly through a cycle of effort, performance and feedback.

The real power of after-school programs is giving students “lived experiences that effort leads to success, because in a high-poverty environment what life teaches you is that life is capricious,” Balfanz said. “It doesn’t tell you that if you work really hard, good things always happen.”

The conference was put together by five organizations: the American Youth Policy Forum, the Collaborative for Building After-School Systems, The Forum for Youth Investment, the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth and Education & Families. The Wallace Foundation funded the event.

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