An after school enrichment program for Detroit students has a waitlist larger than its enrollment leaving the city on the hunt for more funding support and sites to expand.
Get On And Learn – or GOAL Line – launched in 2018 as a pilot morning and afternoon bus loop to ease transportation burdens for families of K-8 students, both public and private, on the city’s northwest side. After parent feedback, the morning bus route was discontinued to focus solely on getting students from school and to the Northwest Activities Center for exercise, homework help, cooking lessons and other extracurricular activities.
The 305-student program is growing in popularity but organizers say it’s also at capacity, with another 400 students from northwest Detroit neighborhoods on a waitlist. The dilemma has program leaders and advocates looking for avenues to grow GOAL and ensure it’s funded.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan unveiled the program during his 2018 State of the City speech as an incentive for city families to keep their children in Detroit’s public and charter schools and to alleviate concerns about a lack of after school care, transportation and programming.
“I wanted to help strengthen the enrollment in the schools in Detroit, not having people bussed 45 minutes away to River Rouge,” Duggan told BridgeDetroit. “In many cases, parents were using that long drive essentially as childcare because they couldn’t get home from work before their kids were out of school.”
Duggan reiterated that GOAL is “maxed out,” and “next year, we’re gonna have to find a second site in northwest Detroit, let alone the rest of the city.”
Ricky Fountain, executive director of the Community Education Commission, which runs GOAL, said the program got off to a “modest start” when it launched four years ago.
“Then COVID hit and it kind of created some upheaval,” said Fountain, noting the offerings went from in-person to online and it wasn’t received as well. But when it reopened last year, he said, the interest was tremendous.
The program, which has a $2.5 million budget this year, costs between $8,000-$10,000 per student each year, Fountain said. About $6 million has been spent on the program so far, with 90% of those dollars coming from grants like the Child Stabilization Fund and the remaining 10% from the City of Detroit. The program didn’t receive any of the city’s $826 million in COVID relief funding. Officials with GOAL confirmed using these funds for the program was not considered.
Parents pay a $25 enrollment fee per household, so there’s no extra cost for families who enroll multiple children.
Fountain said it’s clear there is a great need for the program where it’s being offered today.
“We’re constantly doing a weekly cycle through our waitlist, because some kids may be in a program, they may opt out. Some kids may start playing basketball or other sports throughout the year, so while the waitlist is robust, we’re constantly cycling it through to try to meet the needs of all families,” he said.
GOAL runs from 3-6 p.m. Monday through Friday, but Fountain said program organizers are eager to expand.
“We are doing some surveying now to assess what are the best places to expand to and since we want to be sensible about it, making sure that the community in those areas truly wants it,” Fountain said.
Duggan said he hopes to have the program expand to include a site on the city’s east side by 2024. Fountain said an expansion is “a primary focus,” but couldn’t confirm when another site would launch.
“We hope to have more programming for families in Detroit ASAP,” Fountain said, “but (we) have to expand responsibly to ensure programming remains a mainstay for many years to come.”
Fountain said the program is looking for more nonprofit and grant partners to help fund any expansion efforts.
It would cost about $3.3 million to effectively serve all the kids currently on the waitlist, he said. The figure factors in facility costs, food, transportation and technology. While the program does use grant funding and some city funds, Fountain said it also receives philanthropic dollars from supporters including the YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit, Google, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network.
Easing development gaps
Terry Whitfield, program officer for The Skillman Foundation, a nonprofit educational advocacy group and a sponsor of GOAL, said after school programs play a significant role in confidence, social connections and development. And, with student development gaps prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, they are needed now more than ever.
Whitfield said the demand among Detroit families for GOAL isn’t surprising, but barriers to accessing this program and others remain prevalent.
“The two main things that prevent kids from participating are cost and transportation,” he said. “Of Black and Latino youth who don’t currently take part in out-of-school programs, more than half would if these barriers were removed.”
A 2021 poll conducted by The Skillman Foundation and Michigan’s Children, a Lansing-based public advocacy nonprofit, found that 58% of Michigan voters support publicly funding programs aimed at helping children, including after school programs, even if it raised their taxes.
Eshyra Jordan is among the hundreds of Detroit parents on the waiting list for a spot in the program for their children. She’s hoping to get her daughter enrolled as soon as possible, she said.
“I mostly want her in the program so she has something positive to do after school and to get help with her math homework because I work nights and I can’t help her myself,” Jordan told BridgeDetroit.
Fountain said it’s too early to tell what role the program might have in improving academic performance for students of the Detroit Public Schools Community District, because that can take “a few years to really assess,” he said. But, Fountain added, schools partnered with the program – most of which are DPSCD schools – play a big role in getting parents interested.
Elaina Larry’s fourth grader is in GOAL and said getting out of work an hour after her daughter’s school lets out each day was a huge challenge. That time gap is one of the main reasons she enrolled.
“It has definitely alleviated those challenges,” Larry said. “I don’t have to stress about what she’s going to do after school because she’s going to be at GOAL Line and having that sort of transportation is awesome and it’s right around the corner.”
Before the program, Larry said she needed an after school plan every day through her daughter’s school – the Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies School (FLICS). FLICS is one of GOAL’s 12 partner schools in the northwest section of the city.
Chrystal Wilson, a spokesperson for the Detroit Public Schools Community District, said the program’s emphasis on using enrichment activities to develop the whole child, not just their academics, fits with the work the district is doing.
“When students are able to grow and learn during their out of school time, we believe that also positively impacts success in the classroom,” Wilson said in a statement. “The district is looking for additional ways to partner with the city and others in order to increase the number of after-school opportunities available to each school.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, which began in March 2020, disrupted the momentum the program was achieving, Wilson said, as it temporarily stopped along with in-person schooling for the 49,000-student district.
“Due to the timeline of the pilot in relation to the pandemic,” she said, “the level of impact is more qualitative but as we continue with our initiatives, based on what families and students need, we know offering after school activities will be one of the key drivers in boosting enrollment.”
Fountain said one of the objectives of GOAL is to support the work that the schools are doing with the kids in a way that’s fun and engaging.
“But it’s also reinforcing the academic goals that we want them to hit,” he said. “It’s a challenge but we’re excited about it.”
GOAL sends out a monthly parent satisfaction survey where parents can give their feedback on what’s working and what isn’t. In the latest survey this fall, which 75 parents responded to, 90% said they were “highly satisfied” with the program.
Larry said she’s been happy so far, but wishes the tutoring portion of GOAL began earlier in the daily schedule. Other parents, like Kelly Wilson, whose 10-year-old daughter is also in GOAL, agreed that tutoring is an area where she would like to see some improvement.
“Maybe focus a little more on tutoring the kids and help them with the areas of school they are weakest at,” Wilson said.
Fountain said overall most parents have said they are pleased with the structure of GOAL and how it is run.
“We are very detail-oriented,” he said. “When kids come in, they know where to go. They know what they’re getting, they know exactly how to conduct themselves.”
Wilson appreciates GOAL for removing the “headache of trying to find something for her (daughter) to do after school.” Her daughter also learned to cook and has become more interested in arts since joining the program, she added.
“She loves it and the people working here clearly love her and working with all the kids,” she said. “I’m glad we have (the program) right in the area where I live.”
For more information or to join the waitlist, visit the GOAL Line website.