Abstract: What Does This Program Even Do? School Staff Perceptions on Effectiveness, Benefits, and Challenges of School-Agency Partnerships across Seven Elementary and Secondary Schools (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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440P What Does This Program Even Do? School Staff Perceptions on Effectiveness, Benefits, and Challenges of School-Agency Partnerships across Seven Elementary and Secondary Schools

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Lindsay Ruhr, PhD, MSW, MPPA, Assistant Professor, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Little Rock, AR
Laura Danforth, PhD, MSW, Assistant Professor, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, AR
Background and Purpose: After-school programs are essential to students’ social, emotional, and academic well-being. Many schools partner with community agencies to facilitate after-school enrichment and address complex problems within the school environment, yet how these partnerships are chosen, developed, and maintained in real-time are understudied. To implement after-school programming that is appropriate, relevant, and beneficial for students, school staff (including school social workers) must assess the needs of students in their specific schools and allow families to help determine what specific programming or agencies could best address complex needs.

Methods: Researchers explored school staff perceptions of community-based, after-school programming in their schools. Programming was provided by a single community agency and centered on breaking the cycle of poverty via youth empowerment. The current study aim is to understand how and why school staff chose specific after-school programming for their schools, whether or not students and their families were involved in said choice, and their perception of the specific, measurable benefits of said programming. The two specific research questions are: 1.) What do school staff feel are the deliverable benefits to their specific students as a result of the school/agency partnership?; and 2.) How does the school determine relevance, fit, and need for this partnership?

Participants (n=7) are after-school program coordinators employed within seven Title I funded schools in a metropolitan school district in the South. They completed 30-90 minute, semi-structured interviews. Data analysis was conducted using reflexive thematic analysis. In-vivo, axial, and selective coding was completed in Dedoose.

Results: Results were examined under the Schoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation (SWIFT), which emphasizes robust assessment of student-based needs and family/community input in the selection, implementation, and evaluation of school programming. Two central themes were identified as it relates to the deliverable benefits of the program and how the school determines need and fit for the program.

School staff reported that students enrolled in the agency’s after-school programming developed soft skills (e.g., higher-order thinking and social skills; positive self-concept). School staff also reported that the community agency shouldered responsibility of determining program fit for their schools (e.g., agencies approaching school and asking to implement their programming). Overall, there was no formal needs assessment completed by the schools to determine the appropriateness of the school/agency partnership, and schools did not seek family input regarding the types of programs their children would benefit from most. Schools did not evaluate the effectiveness of programming. Further, none of the schools included in the study employed a social worker to help coordinate after-school programming efforts.

Conclusions and Implications: School-agency partnerships can help address complex issues and inequities that manifest in schools. However, many schools do not adhere to best practices when choosing school-agency partnerships. School social workers are essential to correcting this issue and should implement needs assessments and continual evaluation efforts so that school-agency partnerships are relevant and take into account the unique perspectives of school administrators, students and their families, stakeholders, and the culture of the community.