CITY OF LOS
LA’s BEST AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAM
One of the brightest spots on the Los Angeles landscape is LA’s BEST, an after-school enrichment program for elementary school children ages 5 through 12 who participate in learning-oriented activities after class. Instead of becoming latchkey kids, the participating children stay on the school grounds from school end to 6 p.m. in a supervised, protected environment.
Founded in 1988 by then-Mayor Tom Bradley, LA’s BEST, or Better Educated Students for Tomorrow, is a partnership of the City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Unified School District, and the private sector. Why the private sector? One-fourth of the funding for this pioneering after-school enrichment program is derived from corporate donors, foundations, and individual donors.
Now offered at 24 elementary schools, the LA’s BEST program is found in classrooms near downtown, in Mid City, on the Eastside, in the San Fernando Valley, and in South Los Angeles, including Watts. Measured in distance from City Hall, LA’s BEST school sites are as close as 1 mile, 2 miles, 3 miles; and as far as 25, 26 and 27 miles. Those who have visited Los Angeles know it’s a long distance--almost 50 miles--between Sylmar to the north, and Wilmington to the south by the harbor, two places where we have LA’s BEST sites. That demonstrates geographical distances in Los Angeles, and the school sites cover the full cross section of ethnic and cultural diversity found in the Los Angeles Unified School District, whose 640,000 students are composed of 87 percent combined "minority" children.
The mission of LA’s BEST is to provide a safe and supervised after-school education,
enrichment and recreation program for children ages 5 to 12 in the city of Los Angeles. In September, 1988 the City of Los Angeles took a bold step outside traditional city business to start an after-school program that would be innovative in addressing the alarming rise in street gangs, school dropouts, and drug use in communities where children lacked adequate adult supervision during the critical hours of 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. This was an effort to provide safety and learning-based after-school activity for elementary school children from low-income families who otherwise would become latchkey kids. Taken in that sense, LA’s BEST can be considered a prevention program, wherein prevention/intervention serves to keep a person away from something bad and to help the person move toward something good.
What is offered at school sites in the after-school program? Each LA’s BEST program is as unique as its staff, most of whom live in the same neighborhoods as the children they serve. There’s a broad range of activities, including: homework assistance, tutoring, recreational reading, clubs devoted to math, chess and journalism; seasonal sports competition, cheerleader squads, drill team, dance, theater arts, music, arts and crafts, computer training, and monthly field trips.
As an enrichment activity, field trips center around cultural venues throughout the city. Our young students also take to the sea. One field trip activity over the years has taken thousands of elementary school children on sportfishing boats to do some ocean fishing in coastal waters, while another group once learned how to tie sailor’s knots on California’s historical tallship.
Goals and Objectives
The planned goals and objectives for LA’s BEST provide an overview of the program’s parameters and range of activities:
1. To provide a safe environment for students through careful management and planning that will ensure an appropriately trained supervisory staff, a 20-to-1 supervisory ratio, controlled exit and entrance from the program site, and pick-up by a parent or authorized adult at 6 p.m.
2. To provide enhanced educational opportunities by providing an educational support structure for each student’s schedule. Included are a homework assistance lab and quiet study period, tutoring in math, science, reading, and computer skills development.
3. To provide educational enrichment activities to supplement the regular education program and to provide an enticement to learning.
4. To provide recreation activities including: team sports, tournaments, and skills contests, individual physical fitness and health instruction, and pastimes including chess, checkers, and video games.
5. To provide interpersonal skills and self-esteem development. The idea is to create a "social success" environment wherein students develop friendships, positive relations with authority figures, and increase their feelings of self-esteem, self-worth, and independence.
Children and Crime
Eighty-five percent of the children interviewed in evaluations conducted by the University of California Los Angeles Center for the Study of Evaluation said they heard real gunshots in their neighborhoods and close to home. Children also reported feeling significantly safer in the LA’s BEST program than in their neighborhoods. Moreover, school-based data provided by the Los Angeles Unified School District Police Department found a 57 percent reduction in reported crime at the longest-running LA’s BEST program schools.
In a survey published in August, 1998 by the Los Angeles Times of the 20 ZIP codes in metropolitan Los Angeles with the highest numbers of residents killed by gunfire in 1997, LA’s BEST schools are situated in four. The schools are in ZIP codes ranking first, fifth, sixth, and sixteenth in gun-related deaths in Los Angeles County, the study by Women Against Gun Violence showed. LA’s BEST staff members are trained to work with children to teach empathy, manage anger and control impulses in order to reduce a tolerance for violence at each LA’s BEST campus.
When Mayor Bradley in his 1988 "State of the City" address called for creation of an after-school program, he proposed that $2 million in redevelopment funds be spent to lay the foundation for what is now the nation’s largest after-school education program. At that juncture, federal and state support for enrichment programs in schools was waning. The City of Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, or CRA, was called upon to take on a new, expanded meaning. Mayor Bradley’s intention was to expand LA’s BEST into every elementary school in the city with millions of dollars of downtown tax increment revenue, through the CRA, over the following two decades. But that strategy relied upon lifting of the CRA’s spending cap, something that eventually could not be done. Further, changes in redevelopment law precluded continuance of CRA funding for the after-school program.
Nevertheless, the unprecedented funding start set the stage for an unusual partnership between the City, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the private sector to launch a two-year pilot program at 10 schools. The sites were selected and approved by the Los Angeles City Council and Los Angeles City Board of Education based on the criteria of low test scores, low socioeconomic profiles, geographic distribution, and high gang and crime rates within the neighborhoods. And to structure and implement LA’s BEST, Mayor Bradley appointed a 55-member Mayor’s Education Council composed of leaders from the community, business, education, child care, government, entertainment and manufacturing sectors to provide policy development and program oversight. Current Los Angeles Mayor Richard J. Riordan takes pride in noting that he was a founding board member of LA’s BEST. Today there are two boards--a 19-member Board of Directors, and a 20-member Advisory Board.
One year into its two-year pilot phase, LA’s BEST was expanded from its initial 10 schools to 15 sites with a $500,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, in 1989. At the end of the pilot phase, Kaiser Permanente donated an additional $450,000 in a challenge grant that successfully expanded LA’s BEST into 19 schools in 1990. Subsequent expansion in 1994, 1995 and 1996 from private sector funds and the City of Los Angeles Community Development Department raised the number of children served to its current 5,000 level at 24 elementary schools. The lifting of the CRA spending cap was never realized, making expansion possible primarily through private sector support.
A 501 (c) ( 3) Is Formed
Since 1988, local city government has provided more than $20 million in support, and more than $4.5 million has been raised from private individual donors, corporations and foundations.
Fund raising became possible through the transition of the Mayor’s Education Council into a Board of Directors and the establishment of LA’s BEST as a private nonprofit 501 (c) (3) organization situated within the Office of the Mayor. It is significant that each of the Board of Directors members is required to donate $10,000 annually to the program for which they act as policy makers, in line with a trend seen in recent years in nonprofits. For operations, the Mayor’s Office and the Los Angeles Unified School District provide office space, school facilities, and insurance to staff at all 24 LA’s BEST sites. Additionally, more than $100,000 worth of in-kind and product donations are secured annually. Consequently, the public/private partnership made LA’s BEST highly cost-effective. Each site averages $135,000 per year for 200 children 246 days a year, at a cost of less than $3.50 per day per child. In California, state reimbursement rates for after-school programs have been significantly higher.
Children, parents, board of directors members and advisory board members and hundreds of volunteers are involved in the LA’s BEST program. Staff members communicate with parents at pick-up time, which encourages parents to develop a strong relationship with their children’s school. LA’s BEST parents have become more visible at school meetings and are open to therapeutic alliances with the program’s staff.
LA’s BEST plans numerous involvement activities at the neighborhood and citywide levels. Locally, LA’s BEST students adopt nearby senior facilities for holidays and often perform in local parades. Each LA’s BEST site produces a "Community Jam Against Violence" where talented family members join the students to decry violence in music song and drama. Leading acts from each school go on to a citywide LA’s BEST jam. Other citywide activities include a drill team showcase and science fair where community members serve as judges and a Halloween Kidfest where LA’s BEST haunted houses have attracted thousands of community families free of charge. And LA’s BEST brings more than 1,400 children annually to a citywide beach clean-up and more than 6,000 to an annual family day at a water park. LA’s BEST works with more than 100 community-based organizations with volunteers to enrich the daily program routines at each site.
The LA’s BEST After-School Enrichment Program serves as a model statewide and nationwide. In California, San Jose’s BEST was established by the Mayor’s Office in 1991; Sacramento START, or Students Today Achieving Results Tomorrow, was launched in 1996; and San Diego’s Community School Innovation Incorporated was launched in the fall of 1997.
Most recently, the LA’s BEST model was used to draft current state legislation in no less than four bills in the past two years; and for national legislation on after-school programs. Los Angeles Mayor Richard J. Riordan and his staff were critical to the efforts for gaining support for this legislation.
Says Mayor Riordan of his tenure and oversight of LA’s BEST: "If I have any genius as mayor, it is in my practice of involving the private sector in solving our city’s problems–and, of course, taking credit for the work of donors and volunteers. They are not just finding solutions, but I am empowering them to implement solutions, to make things happen."
The United States Conference of Mayors
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
Copyright © 1999, US Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.