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Oak Ridge Youth Development Center students enjoy a field trip during the organization’s six-week Summer Enrichment Program.

How our youth spend out-of-school time is critical

Access to quality programming before and after school – and during school breaks – can effectively put students and families on a path to success.

Written by Julie Scheidegger

Research tells us that quality out-of-school time (OST) programs can effectively lessen gaps in academic achievement and orient youth toward general success in school and beyond. Yet, in Kansas City, and across the country, far too many students and families live in areas with limited childcare and “out of school time” resources.

School breaks, such as during the winter and the summer months, are particularly difficult. For many families, time off school presents a huge challenge to figure out childcare – and not just for younger children. Out-of-school time programming is especially critical when focused on middle school engagement, as students are at the height of peer influence and risky behavior that can precipitate high school attrition.

We believe investment in out-of-school time programs provides crucial wraparound services to parents and caregivers so they can contribute to the local workforce and/or pursue continued education and economic mobility. It creates safe spaces for nurturing Kansas City’s youth when they might otherwise be unsupervised or disengaged, and reinforces school-day efforts to put all children on a path to success.

It takes a diverse, vibrant ecosystem of organizations to uniquely meet the needs of our communities. In Kansas City, Guadalupe Centers, Greater KC LINC, Operation Breakthrough, and YMCA of Greater Kansas City are well-known for their support of families and students. Still, there are more organizations working to stand in the gaps to support children during out-of-school time.

Meet these Kauffman grantees:

Bridge Leadership Academy logo

Bridge Leadership Academy

The Bridge Leadership Academy, based in the 64134 zip code of Kansas City, provides a safe, nurturing environment where young minds have the freedom to develop, learn, and explore, and is specifically focused on developing youth into proficient scholars by promoting academic success and improved self-esteem. The agency offers one-on-one attention to its participants, through content-specific tutoring and leadership programming, as a supplement to their traditional academic experiences. “The Bridge” also provides healthy food, hygiene products, space for physical activity, laundering services, therapy by licensed psychologists for varying mental health needs, and access to medical care as needed.

With targeted support for 50 fourth through ninth graders, the Bridge provides academic intervention and behavioral support through youth development and workforce preparation programming during out-of-school time. The Bridge aims to increase academic proficiency in core subjects as well as trauma-informed responses by embodying increased self-regulation and conflict resolution skills.

The Bridge recently offered branded classrooms and space at Smith Hale Middle School as part of its leadership with Hickman Mills School District.

“Bridge Leadership Academy is committed to offering a safe and structured environment where students can engage in life skills, job readiness, positive social interactions, and receive meals outside of regular school hours. Affording one student additional access and resources can change their world,” said Wakisha Briggs, M.Ed., CEO, Bridge Leadership Academy.

Camp Fire Heartland logo

Camp Fire Heartland

In collaboration with Turn the Page KC and the Kansas City Public Library, Camp Fire Heartland is piloting literacy infusion strategies in Kansas City Public elementary schools and Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools for kindergarten through eighth grade. The program provides academic and social-emotional learning during after-school and summer programming for 600 students. The outdoor summer camp runs from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. for seven weeks.

For the past several years, Camp Fire Heartland has intentionally provided programming in low-income areas to be more accessible to the families who need free after-school programming the most. In a study shared by, “74% of parents agreed that after-school programs make it easier to keep their job, and 73% reported missing less work once their child started the program.”

The service that Camp Fire Heartland provides is essential for both the children who participate in the programs and the adults who can be successful in their jobs and careers because out-of-school time is covered.

“Through playful, inclusive, affordable, and powerful out-of-class experiences, we connect young people to the outdoors, to others, and to themselves. We provide young people with a space where they feel like they truly belong,” said Erin Balleine, executive director, Camp Fire Heartland. “Camp Fire Heartland’s programs enable young people to develop essential skills that have long-term benefits and make a positive social impact in the world. Meanwhile, parents have a safe place for their children during the work day.”

Junior Achievement of Greater Kansas City logo
2020 Leadership logo
Boys & Girls Club of Greater Kansas City

Entrepreneurial Youth Initiative Middle School Pilot

The Entrepreneurial Youth Initiative (EYI) pilot is focused on bridging in-school and out-of-school experiences for middle schoolers to prepare them for Real World Learning in high school. Junior Achievement of Greater Kansas City (JA), focused on financial literacy and business development, and 20/20 Leadership, a hyper-local youth leadership and social entrepreneurship organization present in 18 local high schools, merged forces and resources to backwards-map their high school-focused offerings to tailor lessons for middle schoolers residing in the urban center.

During the summer, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City and the Kansas City Urban Youth Academy stepped up to the plate to offer their summer enrichment programs as an initial piloting site. This led to further collaboration among the three organizations, along with Black Excellence KC and Lyrik’s Institution, who advised the planning team on how to tailor curriculum to better engage students.

“When students develop and practice entrepreneurial skills, they are uniquely positioned to address challenges with resilience and innovation,” said Marnie Morgan, executive director, 20/20 Leadership.

And while there are often significant gaps in this area of programming for this age group, Megan Sturges Stanfield, president and CEO, Junior Achievement of Greater Kansas City, said the entrepreneurial spirit of Kansas City students is strong, and they are eager to make their place in the world. “The Entrepreneurial Youth Initiative creates access and opportunities for young people to lean into their hopes and dreams and continue pursuing what is possible.”

Jason Roth, president and CEO, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City said this initiative provides middle school-aged youth with a glimpse at another pathway to success. “Positive out-of-school time activities for this age group are not significantly prevalent, and to engage tweens, programming needs to be compelling. This program inspires participants to innovate, empowers them to evolve, and surrounds them with support and mentors that build tenacity and a nimble, problem-solving approach.”

Grace United Community Ministries

Grace United Community Ministries

Serving a mostly immigrant and refugee population from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, Grace United Community Ministries works in partnership with Kansas City Public Schools to provide in-person, virtual, and hybrid academic tutors. Tutors include retired teachers as literacy tutors, and current medical students and STEM professionals as science and math tutors.

The program, “Aim for Success,” provides one-on-one tutoring and access to computers, while it also addresses basic needs like clothing, personal hygiene items, and educational supplies, as well as transportation to and from the program and a healthy meal. During the summer, breakfast, lunch, and a significant afternoon snack are provided.

“Parents and students alike have come to rely on Grace United Community Ministries as a safe, nurturing environment that helps youth build positive character traits, be successful in school, and learn leadership skills for positive civic participation,” said Jesse Barnes, Ed.D., executive director, Grace United Community Ministries.

“Many youth in our area lack opportunities that can help them realize their potential in successful, productive careers. Interacting with current technology, building healthy relationships with peers, and being exposed to stimulating ideas for creative careers  give our youth the skills, confidence, encouragement, and background to achieve amazing things as adults. Without exposure to such opportunities, many of the children and youth in our Northeast Kansas City area are left with few choices that too often include defaulting to illegal activities that lead to early incarceration.” 

KCKCC K-12 Initiative logo

Kansas City Kansas Community College Saturday Academy

The Kansas City Kansas Community College (KCKCC) Saturday Academy engages more than 200 middle and high school students from Kansas City, Kansas, in academic science, math, reading, and technology hands-on activities through small group learning labs that tackle real-world issues and teambuilding for positive social development. The program also provides scholar and family wrap-around services and childcare for younger siblings of students.

Saturday Academy provides students working toward graduation and higher education with access to mentors; of which, 19% have Ph.D.s, 33% have master’s degrees, 20% are certified K-12 teachers, and 28% are college graduates and current college interns. All are working professionals in STEM careers (or related) in the Greater Kansas City area, and 86% of staff are Academy alumni. The Academy serves a majority of Latino (43%) and Black (42%) students and boasts a 100% high school graduation and a 97% college entrance rate for its students. Sixty-eight percent of Academy students go on to major in STEM in college.

Beyond Saturday Academy, KCKCC’s kindergarten through 12th grade initiative includes paid summer STEM internships hosted at the University of Kansas, as well as paid stipends for work-eligible youth who participate in the Health Science Academy.

Oak Ridge Youth Development School logo

Oak Ridge Youth Development Corporation

Oak Ridge Youth Development Corporation provides a six-week summer enrichment program serving at least 100 youth (kindergarten through 12th grade) from Kansas City, Kansas, with a specific focus on kindergarten through eighth grade students in need of core academic support.

Certified teachers and college interns teach small groups (5:1 ratio) during 30 hours of targeted intervention in each of three core instructional areas: reading, mathematics, and entrepreneurial mindset, which exposes youth to entrepreneurial concepts and entrepreneurship as a viable career pathway. The program aims to prevent summer learning loss but also to close widened learning gaps through more intensive academic supports and smaller student-to-teacher ratios.

“We provide year-round tutoring and summer enrichment programs with a focus on STREAM (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts, and Math) curriculum as well as many other necessary life skills (social-emotional, health and fitness, food security, financial literacy, horticulture, cooking, entrepreneurship, cultural studies) and most importantly, mentoring by community leaders,” said Charlotte Jennings, executive director, Oak Ridge Youth Development Corporation.

“Oak Ridge does not just provide services; we provide lifetime experiences for underserved youth so that they will learn and love education, stay in school and graduate, and continue on in ways that will allow them to stop the cycle of inequities, earn living wages, and raise their own families in healthy and successful ways.”

Wildwood Outdoor Education Center logo

Wildwood Outdoor Education Center

Wildwood Outdoor Education Center provides free summer camp to youth residing in Kansas City’s urban core. It offers immersive week-long experiences all summer with STEM- and literacy-focused programming, using a retention-based model designed to grow with students from age 8 to 18.

Wildwood joins the summer camp experience with innovative programs that build youth social-emotional skills, independence, and job skills needed to access upward mobility in Kansas City. Wildwood offers Leadership Camp for students entering grades 9 through 12. Leadership Campers participate in regular camp programs, as well as additional training in camp programs, and educational and leadership strategies. Leadership Campers then have the opportunity to put this knowledge into practice, returning in a paid internship position starting in 10th grade, and having the opportunity to become full staff starting in 12th grade. Teen campers also receive financial literacy training, attend a resume workshop, and work with counselors to cultivate mindfulness and resilience.

“Wildwood transforms summer into a season of learning and exploration for low-income Kansas City-area youth. Our overnight camp programs give kids opportunities to connect with others and build SEL (Social Emotional Learning), reading, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) skills in a supportive camp environment,” said Robyn E. Ratcliff, executive director, Wildwood Outdoor Education.

“Too many kids are left out of summer travel, lessons, and outdoor activities because of income inequality, and Wildwood provides youth with new places, friendships, and immersion in the natural environment. Kids connect with, and care more about, the planet when they see the sun setting over the water and the stars shining over their heads.”

Youth Ambassadors

Youth Ambassadors logo

Youth Ambassadors (YA) provides trauma-informed programming for youth in Kansas City’s urban core by encouraging social-emotional learning and whole person development during after-school hours and summer. Programming provides youth with tangible tools necessary to improve and protect their lives.

YA hires approximately 250 teenagers annually, ages 14 to 18, to complete work assignments in classroom environments, which supports their ability to learn and apply essential social-emotional learning concepts. Upon mastering core training concepts, youth can be employed to work on community investment projects, including expansion of community garden programs in food deserts, public art murals, neighborhood clean-ups, and community engagement festivals. Through this multi-dimensional effort, participants become deeply invested in the growth, development, and safety of their own communities.

“The core foundation of our work is centered on social-emotional learning, trauma-healing, and violence prevention. Ambassadors explore potential career opportunities while learning key skills necessary for success after high school graduation. Our youth learn how to represent themselves in employment interviews, how to write a resume, and how to successfully contribute to experiential group projects that positively impact our communities. Ambassadors are also paid for their work and participation with our organization while receiving enhanced financial literacy programming and training,” said Monique Johnston, Ph.D., executive director, Youth Ambassadors.

“The majority of our youth reside in communities where economic investment is lacking, where families survive intergenerational poverty, and where elevated levels of violent crime are persistent. Youth Ambassadors is contributing to a larger ecosystem through prevention-based programming that creates increased access to educational and career opportunities in an effort to counteract historic economic disinvestment and systemic racism.”