One in every five students drops out of high school and roughly 1.2 million students fail to graduate from high school each year. High school dropouts are less likely to earn a living wage, vote, and volunteer in their communities and have a greater chance of being unemployed, incarcerated, uninsured, and receiving public assistance.

In response to this challenge, United Way has set an ambitious national education goal of cutting the dropout rate in half by the year 2018 and is mobilizing individuals, communities, and organizations across America
to work collectively so that more students graduate high school prepared for college and career.

United Way views high-quality out-of-school programs as one important support — as part of a broad array of wrap-around supports — to achieve our national goal of cutting the high school drop-out rate in half and preparing every young person for success in life. Participation in high-quality out-of-school time programs results in increases in student performance on standardized achievement tests; improved work-study habits and homework completion rates; stronger feelings of engagement and school connectedness; increases in self-esteem; improved relationships with peers and adults; and declines in negative, risk-taking behavior.

These outcomes are tied to increased student achievement and overall educational attainment. United Way believes that increasing access to engaging, relevant, and high-quality out-of-school time activities, especially for at-risk middle and high school students, will ultimately help increase high school graduation rates. Yet the potential of out-of-school time will only be realized when children and youth who need them have access to high-quality programs that meet their needs and reflect their interests.

This toolkit is a resource to United Ways and their community partners who seek to deepen their out-of-school time efforts so that more young people have access to quality programs. This toolkit is the result of an ongoing partnership between United Way Worldwide and jcpenney. Over the past three years, United Way Worldwide, with the support of jcpenney, has provided grants and technical assistance to a select number of local United Ways to help them build and strengthen out-of-school time systems in their communities. This toolkit builds on those efforts and leverages the work of previous United Way grantees - particularly their lessons learned, tools, and resources focused on collaboration and coalition building, engaging key stakeholders, and developing and communicating strategies to improve youth access to high quality programs in their communities

One important lesson learned is the need for United Ways and their partners to adopt a systemic approach to improving out-of-school time quality, access, sustainability, data collection and evaluation, and alignment and coordination, rather than piecemeal approaches focused on individual programs or funding streams. This toolkit is organized into the essential elements that communities will need to focus on to develop and sustain an out-of-school time system.

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