Preparing Your District to Become a 21st Century Community Learning Centers Funded Partner by Julie Alsup, GPC

Is your school district or youth-serving organization looking to launch or expand an afterschool program? If so, the U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) grant opportunity may be a fit for you. These grants are federal dollars passed through the states to support afterschool programming focused on academic achievement, enrichment, and family engagement in low-income school communities. Most states hold an annual competition to apply for what is usually three-to-five years of renewable funding.

The following projects are eligible for 21st CCLC funding.

1)  Starting or expanding a program, so long as they do not supplant a current program or funding source.

2)  Starting a new afterschool program site at a location that doesn’t have one.

3)  Adding tutoring, enriching, and or family engagement initiatives to a program that has not previously offered those elements.

The award range is typically $50,000-$100,000 per year for up to five years, with diminishing funds in the final years to encourage organizations to diversity the program’s funding sources. School districts and youth-serving organizations collaborating with school districts are eligible to apply. The 21st CCLC competition timelines vary from state to state, and funding is dependent upon the appropriations process.

Conducting a needs assessment can position your district or organization to be prepared to apply for 21st CCLC or other opportunities. Should you choose to apply, your grant narrative must demonstrate how the project design responds to needs that you have researched and analyzed about the school community and the larger geographic area served. If your school conducts an annual Title I survey, you might consider piggy-backing on that required outreach to ask your families some key questions about their needs for afterschool programming, barriers they face that might be addressed through additional enrichment offerings, and the types of family engagement events that resonate among your school community. Alternatively, you can create an online survey that can be emailed or texted out to families.

Below are examples of basic questions you might include in this survey:

1) Provide a list of 10-15 potential afterschool offerings, including both child enrichment opportunities and family support activities. Ask parents to select those that would interest them and allow respondents to add their own as well. Examples might include STEM activities, tutoring, expanded library hours, mentoring, English as a Second Language services, expanded art programming, bullying prevention, etc.

2) Ask parents if they have childcare needs. If they do, ask about their deciding factors when selecting a childcare program. Examples might include cost, program offerings, hours of availability, the availability of bilingual staff, etc.

Another preparation measure is to create an ad-hoc committee made up of school staff, youth-serving organization representatives, parents, and even students to discuss the needs for afterschool programming. Administering the needs assessment and discussing the findings can be one of the first tasks this committee undertakes. Your ability to describe an existing advisory committee will strengthen your application.

To find out more about the U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Center grant, visit

For more information about how Assel Grant Services can help your district prepare or apply for this opportunity, visit

GPC Competency 2: Knowledge of organizational development as it pertains to grant seeking.  Skill 3: Identify methods for assisting organizations to implement practices that advance grant readiness.


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