Message From Richard: What We're Learning

At the Andy Roddick Foundation, we work with our community to expand opportunities for young people to learn, thrive, and succeed.

We focus on expanded learning time – the time beyond school hours – because this is where we believe we can make the biggest difference in closing learning opportunity gaps. We know that students across the city of Austin have curriculum, structure, and instruction during the school hours. But once the school bell rings, inequities in access to other learning opportunities become very evident.  We know that students in underserved neighborhoods lack adequate access to these supports that are necessary for their success in school and in life.

High-quality expanded learning programs and supports engage students in learning and enrichment through after-school, summer, and other activities conducted beyond traditional school hours. We believe that high quality expanded learning opportunities produce positive outcomes for students, educators, and families.

High quality expanded learning programs improve student academic performance and achievement, improve social and emotional learning skills and capacities, family involvement in children’s education, and expands resources and supports available to the school and the community it serves. Over three decades of research provide evidence of the impact and outcomes of high quality expanded learning programs, so the question we need to pose to ourselves as a city is not whether we should invest in high quality expanded learning efforts but how much and how strategic do we need to be to ensure that these investments are sustainable, scalable, and generate positive results that benefit those students that need them the most.

The Andy Roddick Foundation is 16 years old but only has been making strategic investments in this arena since 2014.  Originally based in Florida, Andy Roddick brought the Foundation to Austin, TX upon his retirement from the professional tennis circuit in 2012, and restructured the foundation’s mission, board, and staffing. In 2013, we conducted an assessment of what is needed in the community and learned where we can make the most impactful contribution.

We found out that summer is the time when the biggest learning opportunity gaps exist, transportation is a major challenge preventing access to quality programs, and families identify neighborhood public schools to still be the most trusted safe place for their children to go. So we launched summer learning programs that are based in public elementary schools.

We learned that many afterschool program providers exist in the community and we invest in these programs to deliver high quality supports to students during the school year.

Finally, in order for these efforts to be sustainable, scalable, and responsive to emerging trends and continuously changing local economic and political landscape, we invest in efforts that can help establish a coordinated system of expanded learning programs and supports.

As a result, since summer 2014, the Andy Roddick Foundation has invested over $1.6 million in these focus areas of summer learning programs, afterschool supports, and regional and state-level expanded learning system building efforts. We have partnered with Pecan Springs Elementary, and beginning this school year, we will partner with Harris Elementary to provide full year expanded learning programs and activities.

We are proud of early success indicators in our investments for the past two years:

  • Our six week summer learning program at Pecan Springs Elementary generate high daily attendance rates (over 90%), high satisfaction rates among students, families and volunteers, and over 93 percent of students say that the program helped them discover what they are good at, and 97 percent of families report that the program help their children prepare for the next grade. 100 percent of our students also said they try hard in school and would be attending college in the future.
     
  • This summer, we also partnered with the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department to lengthen its summer programming to a full day, 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, across 11 of their 21 community centers across the city with over 1,300 children participating.
     
  • Our after-school partners, including Phoenix Arising, GenAustin, Creative Action, kidsActing Foundation, Austin Film Society and others help increase family involvement and enhance social and emotional learning skills and capacities.
     
  • We also invest in Learn All the Time, Texas Partnership for Out of School Time, E3 Alliance, and the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium to help develop public understanding, demand and support for high quality expanded learning programs at the local, regional, and state levels.
     

What are we learning from these investments? We are learning several important lessons.

First, positive outcomes and results are generated by focusing on high quality program delivery. And we need to be intentional on the components that make up a high quality program, including:

a)   Caring and supportive adults;

b)   Fostering high level of engagement among youth;

c)   A safe learning environment;

d)   Curriculum that is aligned with school day learning and with desired outcomes; and

e)   High level of family involvement.

Second, long term impact is generated over time. We have been engaged in this work for less than 3 years but we know that to tip the outcomes scale, we need to invest in this effort over multiple years. We build a continuous learning mechanism in our programs and investments knowing that there are no short cuts to delivering positive results for our students. Relationships, after all, are built over time. And we are in it for the long haul.

Third, we need strong partnerships. No single entity holds the silver bullet to any challenge facing our schools, families, and community. Resources need to be pooled, talent need to be leveraged, and strategies need to be shared. It would be arrogant and foolish for the Foundation to think we have the single solution to improving academic performance or lowering high family mobility rates in East Austin. We do not. But we need the support of public agencies, schools, families, and other funders to address the roots of systemic issues, and address problems across all levels: programmatic, institutional, and systemic levels.

Lastly, just as we need to look at our program and grant-making strategy long term, we all need to look at how to sustain and support high quality expanded learning supports over time. The annual public allocation or appropriation approach to funding programs prevents these programs from developing long term strategies, and getting ahead in leveraging additional support from other sources and pulling policy levers at the local, regional, and state levels so that deeply rooted and sustainable solutions can be implemented.

The Andy Roddick Foundation is willing to be a thinking partner with city council and other community and public institutions to address our immediate and long term challenges. We can help put public attention on the importance of expanded learning opportunities and supports for all of Austin’s children, help generate public demand and support for high quality expanded learning programs, and help create sustainable solutions to addressing the wide gaps in learning opportunities across our beloved city.