If you enjoy working with children, starting your own after-school program can be an exciting and fulfilling venture.
You get to create a positive and fun environment for students, while helping them develop valuable academic and social skills that could last them a lifetime.
However, it is not an easy task.
After-school programs are structured like businesses. This means you will need to do a lot of careful planning and preparation in order to be successful.
If you lack this kind of experience, this article provides you with six steps to follow for starting an after-school program.
- Do Your Research First
- Create a Business Plan
- Build a Curriculum
- Hire the Right Staff
- Market the Program
- Use Registration Software
Do Your Research First
To start an after-school program, you first need to do your research.
You should begin by conducting a thorough needs assessment of the community through surveys, interviews or focus groups.
It is crucial you construct the research in a way that helps you understand the specific needs and interests of the parents, children, and the community at large.
“Is your child currently enrolled in an after-school program?” or “What components of the program do you find most important for your child?’’ are good examples of the kind of questions you should ask.
If you are unsure of what to include in your research, there are many needs assessment templates available online, like this one by SurveyMonkey:
You can use the questions as presented in the template or edit them to fit your research goals.
In addition to a needs assessment, it is important to research city and state regulations.
Every state has different requirements for staffing, facilities, and programming, with many necessitating an operating license.
You can usually find information about your local regulator online.
For example, Michigan’s Licence and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) department has a website with a special section for the Child Care Licencing Bureau (CCLB).
There, you can find all the relevant resources, like rules and statutes, licensing forms, and contact information for any additional information.
Ultimately, researching the local after-school landscape can go a long way in helping you construct a roadmap for designing and implementing a program that is best suited to the community you’re serving.
Create a Business Plan
The next step in starting an after-school program is creating a detailed business plan.
And just like with any other business, preparation is the key to success.
The US Small Business Administration report from 2020 found that 48.8% of new establishments stay afloat for five years, with only around one-third of them surviving ten years or longer.
Illustration: Regpack / Data: SBA
A well-crafted business plan will help you better define your goals and objectives, thereby making your program more sustainable in the long term.
So, what makes a good business plan?
First, you need to do market research.
You can use your needs assessment as a starting point and expand it to include an analysis of the competition and the local and national after-school landscape.
According to CB Insights, a leader in tech market intelligence, 35% of startups fail because there is no need for them in the market.
Illustration: Regpack / Data: CB Insights
That is why you should always avoid confirmation bias and base your program on your findings, not the other way around.
Next, you need a mission statement—a short, to-the-point description of your program’s purpose and values.
In the case of an after-school program, it might be providing a safe and enriching environment for students to develop social and academic skills.
You should also provide details about the services offered, as well as job roles and responsibilities.
Is your program focused on playing sports or STEM? How many people does it take to run it? Do you need to hire people trained in a specific field?
Starting an after-school program requires funding, so you must devise a budget. You need to list expenses and calculate future earning projections.
If you’re unfamiliar with financial planning, hiring an expert to help is a good idea.
Finally, it’s time to write an executive summary. Although it’s written last, it should serve as an introduction to your business plan, outlining its essential points in a clear and concise way.
Build a Curriculum
After researching and creating a business plan, you need to build a curriculum.
And don’t worry, this is the fun part of the process.
To begin, decide on the kind of after-school program you want to offer. Popular options include STEM activities, art and music lessons, sports, and cooking classes.
There are two different approaches you can take here. Namely, you can focus solely on one of these subjects, or you can incorporate a mix of subjects in your program.
By focusing on just one subject, you can provide more knowledge and teach students advanced skills.
This will potentially bring them more value and establish your after-school program as the leader in that particular subject in your community.
On the other hand, because children have different interests, you can also decide on a mix of subjects, helping increase enrollment.
However, topics will likely be covered more lightly, which means the emphasis will be on the social, rather than the academic aspect of the program, or skill development.
Next, you should decide on the goal for a particular semester.
For example, if you are starting an after-school program focused on filmmaking, an appropriate goal would be for children to make a short film that would be presented at the end of the class.
With a clear goal in mind, you will have an easier time planning out the semester.
You need to determine the number and length of sessions it would take to reach the goal in a given timeframe.
As a basis, you can use your previous experience teaching this topic.
If you are new to the subject, research the internet for advice on running your particular type of program or contact the experts in teaching this topic.
Lastly, you need to write the lesson plans. Each class should have a mini-goal, building toward the overarching goal of the semester.
Note the materials and other provisions you will need for the individual classes and make sure you stay within budget.
While a strong structure helps you stay on track, remember to leave some room for flexibility.
You should find a balance between activities that go towards reaching your goals and keeping your students motivated by doing activities of their choosing.
Hire the Right Staff
Starting a successful after-school program means that you have to hire the right staff for the job.
The Afterschool Alliance, a non-profit organization working for the betterment of after-school programs across the USA, reported that 93% of parents consider a knowledgeable and caring staff an important factor in selecting their after-school program.
Illustration: Regpack / Data: AfterSchool Alliance
How do you find the people you are looking for? There are several methods you can try.
First, try reaching out to other local organizations or individuals with an interest in education.
Send emails to colleges, high schools, libraries, coaches or former after-school staff.
Ask them to put up posters and spread the word about your job opportunity through their communication channels.
You should also contact the parents of the children living in the area.
Find local parent groups and see if they would pass on flyers to their members or send a message to families that were formerly involved in your programs.
Finally, you can advertise through various offline and online channels. Job posting websites are a good place to start.
They are usually affordable and help you reach a targeted audience. On many of them, like Indeed or LinkedIn, you can even post a job ad for free.
If your post needs a boost, they have a lot of useful premium paid features you can try.
Whichever method you employ, include a clear job description.
The candidates need to know exactly what is expected of them, so you don’t spend time interviewing people who are unqualified for the job.
The interviews need to be thorough, so prepare in advance.
When evaluating potential employees, consider their commitment to the program mission, skills and ability to work with youth, and their experience and credentials.
By hiring the right staff, you will build a strong team that can provide quality care and enrichment opportunities for the children in your program.
Market the Program
When you have all the ingredients of a successful after-school program in place, it’s time to market it.
The goal of marketing is to encourage enrollment by raising awareness of your program. To create a marketing campaign that works, you first need an advertising plan.
Define who your target audience is and try to figure out what will attract them to your program. Also, think about the qualities that set you apart from your competitors.
Does your after-school program teach a unique subject? Do you have specific experience that others don’t?
The insight you gather will help you present your content to the right audience in a way that entices them to act.
Marketing is all about telling a story.
To create yours, use the mission statement and the goal of the semester as guidelines. It is crucial that you clearly communicate your mission and be authentic in your messaging.
That way, your adverts will project positive values that parents want for their kids.
If you want to learn more, the Afterschool Alliance has a section dedicated to marketing after-school programs on its website.
Source: Afterschool Alliance
They offer lessons in marketing strategies, examples of successful campaigns, and other useful tips and resources.
Lastly, think about the tools you can use for your campaign. Just like with job postings, there are many channels to consider.
You can contact schools, community centers and other organizations working with young people, and encourage them to post flyers and send email notifications to parents.
Try building a website or social media accounts for the program. Use them to engage with the public or post compelling blogs and videos about your program.
To reach a wider audience, you can advertise with paid services like Facebook Ads or Google Ads.
To conclude, an effective marketing campaign will help raise awareness of your after-school program and increase student enrollment.
Use Registration Software
To simplify the student enrollment process for your after-school program, you can use registration software.
This is a great way to enable quick and efficient registration for parents interested in the program.
When a registration procedure involves a lot of unnecessary steps, applying can be a hassle and ultimately make the parent lose interest halfway.
Using software like Regpack, you can embed the registration and payment functionality directly on your website.
Use their online form builder to build one that works for you.
Regpack’s registration and payment forms work on any device, and allow parents to sign up and pay without redirecting to external sites, saving them time and energy.
After the classes start, registration software will also help you manage all invoices and other participant information through a streamlined, user-friendly interface.
You can track attendance and collect and analyze data to make more informed management decisions.
During your program, you might want to send notifications to students or parents.
You could be updating them on the changes in the program, reminding them of important dates, or inviting them to a program-related event.
To help, Regpack offers built-in email communication tools.
By using filters, you can choose which members you want to message. Automate the process with email templates, which fill in the personalized data and save you manual work.
All in all, using software like Regpack can save you and the families in your program time and effort during registration, and help you manage your after-school program with ease.
Starting an after-school program can seem like a daunting task. After all, your wish is to educate and help children, but getting there also requires a lot of learning on your part.
By following the six steps outlined in the article, you will have an easier time organizing and planning the program.
This will result in a more efficient after-school experience for students and parents, and empower you with new skills and a deserved sense of accomplishment.