Fostering College and Career Readiness through Afterschool and Expanded Learning Opportunities

Fostering College and Career Readiness through Afterschool and Expanded Learning Opportunities
Fostering College and Career Readiness through Afterschool and Expanded Learning Opportunities


This forum highlighted programs and policy efforts that are helping students strengthen the knowledge and skills needed to prepare for college and careers through learning opportunities that occur beyond the school day.  The Indiana Statewide Afterschool Network, in collaboration with the Indiana Department of Education and the Indiana Commission on Higher Education, has made college and career readiness an explicit aim in its statewide efforts through the development of college and career readiness afterschool standards and other tools to help afterschool programs across the state.  The Starfish Initiative, in Indianapolis, Indiana, provides four years of support to promising low-income students through programming that includes dedicated mentors, college campus visits and college and career readiness assessments. Ninety eight percent of Starfish program participants go on to college. After School Matters, in Chicago, Illinois, provides project-based apprenticeship opportunities for public high school students through a network of public-private partnerships that enable students to gain valuable career exposure and skill development. Research has shown After School Matters participants to have lower incidence of problem behaviors, a stronger sense of connection to school and a higher perceived value of school and academics compared to their peers.  Presenters discussed the programming and policy efforts that have led to positive student outcomes in their states and communities, highlighted the valuable role that afterschool and expanded learning stakeholders can play in supporting college and career readiness initiatives, and addressed policies and systems that supported or hindered their success.

Presenters included Debbie Zipes, Executive Director, Indiana Afterschool Network; Robert Kizer, President and CEO, Starfish Initiative; and Mary Ellen Caron, CEO of After School Matters.

Presenter Biographies

In June 2012, Mary Ellen Caron, Ph.D. joined After School Matters as Chief Executive Officer. A longtime member of the Advisory Board, she happily accepted the position, which combines her passion for serving Chicago’s youth with her administrative expertise. Altogether, Dr. Caron is responsible for managing a workforce of more than 500 people to ensure that Chicago teens have access to the high-quality, out-of-school time opportunities that will prepare them for their futures.

Prior to After School Matters, Dr. Caron served as commissioner of the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS). At the time of her appointment in January of 2009, the department was a consolidation of several of the City’s former human service departments. Dr. Caron successfully managed the transition and worked to provide a continuum of support for Chicago’s vulnerable residents, from birth through the senior years.

From 2004 through 2008, Caron served as commissioner of the Chicago Department of Children and Youth Services, now part of DFSS, which provided community-based services that promoted the well-being and successful development of Chicago’s youngest residents, while strengthening families and their communities.

Previously, Dr. Caron was a special assistant to the Chief Executive Officer, Arne Duncan, of the Chicago Board of Education, where she leveraged her administrative background to improve Chicago’s public schools. She opened new schools, closed poor-performing schools and acted as liaison for operations and oversight of professional-development schools.

Dr. Caron is the founding principal of the Frances Xavier Warde School, an elementary school serving over 900 students in downtown Chicago.


Robert Kaizer brings to Starfish Initiative a wealth of senior level business experience in public accounting, real estate and customer strategy consulting. He is a committed, enthusiastic, articulate and inspiring leader driven to create business results, legendary customer experiences, and employee empowerment. Many Indianapolis youth serving agencies have benefited from his board leadership, fundraising, and service.

A first-generation college grad from Indiana University at South Bend, and a CPA, Bob knows firsthand the power of education and encouragement. He and his wife Melinda enjoy traveling and together have four college-graduate children and six grandchildren.



Debbie Zipes became the Executive Director of the Indiana Afterschool Network in January 2010, bringing with her more than twenty years of non-profit leadership experience.  Debbie holds Masters Degrees in Psychology (New York University) and Social Work (Fordham University), and a Bachelor’s Degree from Tufts University.  Debbie began her career as a school counselor working with youth and families in inner city schools in New York City, led career-based afterschool programs, and a city-wide community school initiative with the United Way of Central Indiana and Indianapolis Public Schools.  Debbie’s current work focuses on increasing youth access to high quality, affordable out-of-school time programs that prepare them for success in school, work, college and life.  Debbie engages cross-sector partners at the national, state and local levels to increase funding and resources, influence public policy, and strengthen the quality out-of-school time programs statewide.   She believes that all programs serving children and youth can find inspiring ways to include college and career readiness experiences and messages into their regular programming.

Click here to read the forum brief for this event (PDF)»


Presenter Information


Dr. Mary Ellen Caron


After School Matters

66 E. Randolph Street

4th Floor

Chicago, IL 60601



Robert L. Kizer

President and CEO

Starfish Initiative

814 N. Delaware St

Indianapolis, IN 46204


Debbie Zipes

Executive Director

Indiana Afterschool Network

3901 Meridian Street

Indianapolis, IN 46208



The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.