“Proof of principle.” It’s a clinical-sounding phrase derived from the search for new medications.
But oh, what excitement it generated here at Wallace when we first read it in print in 2010, because the phrase also means that something has shown promise and warrants further development. There it was, on pg. 74 of a RAND Corp. report, Hours of Opportunity, which examined Wallace-supported afterschool program efforts in five cities. For years, organizations in those communities—Boston; Chicago; New York City; Providence, R.I.; and Washington, D.C.—had been working to see if a then-novel concept was possible.
The idea? To have the major groups involved in afterschool programs—parks, libraries, schools, recreation programs, government agencies and others—collaborate to build a coherent system of high-quality afterschool programming, especially for the neediest children and teens.
The cities had embarked on this effort in the early 2000s, not knowing whether afterschool coordination on a wide scale and involving numerous players was possible. But apparently, the after-school systems idea had something to it. “This initiative provided a proof of principle—that organizations across cities could work together toward increasing access, quality, data-based decision-making, and sustainability,” RAND concluded.
In other words, the cities had demonstrated the feasibility of launching afterschool systems with the potential to improve programs and make them more readily available. Ultimately, that meant kids might have a better shot at filling their spare time with enrichment and learning, rather than risk.
Hours helped guide what we called our next-generation afterschool effort, in which nine other cities with system work underway received support to boost their efforts, especially in the collection and analysis of data. That work, in turn, gave rise to several other notable reports. One, an updated Wallace Perspective called Growing Together, Learning Together, found that building strong afterschool systems required four key elements: leadership from all the major players, a coordinating entity, use of data and efforts to bolster program quality.
By 2013, we had some reason to believe that system-building was more than a flash in the pan. A Wallace-commissioned scan found that at least 77 of the nation’s 275 largest cities were endeavoring to build afterschool systems.
What’s the latest figure? The answer will have to wait for another study.