Increasing Capacity and Quality in Afterschool Programs: Lessons learned from New York City’s Beacons

Increasing Capacity and Quality in Afterschool Programs: Lessons learned from New York City’s Beacons
Increasing Capacity and Quality in Afterschool Programs: Lessons learned from New York City’s Beacons


Beacons are one of the nation’s first citywide after school initiatives and now operate in five cities, serving more than 150,000 children, youth, and community members. The Beacons Young Adolescent Initiative (BYA) is a four-year initiative of the Youth Development Institute (YDI), funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies.  BYA seeks to improve outcomes for young people ages nine to 14 by increasing their participation in high quality activities during the afterschool, evening, and weekend hours.  The initiative is designed to address two key issues in the afterschool field: the need for high quality programs and the reduced participation of young people as they enter adolescence. This forum will discuss the results of the BYA’s recently released 3rd year evaluation report, examine YDI’s capacity building strategies and their impact, and provide policy recommendations.




Rob Abbot, Program Director, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, graduated from Hunter College School of Social Work in 1993.  He worked at Good Shepherd Services as a Beacon Prevention Social Worker from 1993-1999.  In 1993 he co-founded the youngest Ladders of Leadership group at the Beacon, the ‘Challengers’.  He ran the Challengers from 1993-99.  In 1999, he became the first TASC site coordinator at PS 27 and served in that position until 2001.  From 2001-2004, Rob was the Beacon director for the Red Hook Community Center Beacon.  From 2004 to the present Rob Abbot has been the director or Youth and Family Services for the Cypress Hills LDC.  He has used his ample experience directing programming at sites to oversee multiple programs for Cypress Hills LDC.


Anita M. Baker, Evaluator, has worked for more than 15 years as an evaluator.  She currently works as a Project Director for the OMG Center for Collaborative Learning in Philadelphia and maintains a limited practice as an independent evaluation consultant.  Through both her roles, she provides a variety of evaluation-related services to research and evaluation organizations, universities, foundations, and non-profit agencies which provide services to youth and families, specializing in technical assistance for agencies conducting participatory evaluations and striving to develop evaluation capacity. Through the sponsorship of grantmaking organizations including the Bruner Foundation, the Robert Bowne Foundation and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, she has developed and delivered training in participatory evaluation planning and methodology for evaluators, non-profit agency staff, and funders.  Dr. Baker has designed, directed and participated on evaluation teams focused on a wide range of subjects including youth development, arts education, community-based collaborations and integrated services, afterschool education, employment and training, foster care and transitional and supportive housing, and organizational evaluation capacity building.

Anita Baker earned her Doctorate in Education from Columbia University, Teacher’s College in 1991, and formerly served as a project director and senior program officer of the Academy for Educational Development in New York City.


Sandra Escamilla, Director of Programs, The Youth Development Institute A social worker by training, she has been in the field of youth development for 18 years.  In that time she has dedicated herself to work with youth and families throughout New York City across academic, social, clinical, health and employment settings.

Sandra has been with YDI since 2001 and has served in a variety of roles. As the Program Officer of the Beacons National Strategy, she provided professional development to Beacon staff in the area of program assessment, development and implementation.  As the Director Education, she has worked closely with the New York City Department of Education, including the Office of Multiple Pathways to Graduation initiative. She has used a youth development framework to strengthen the quality of instruction and support to middle-school, high-school, and older youth.

In her current role at YDI, Sandra oversees program development and capacity building efforts for the Education Department, the Beacons National Strategy and the Young Adult Initiative. She also leads and often conducts training and other support to several New York City agencies. Sandra Escamilla is a graduate of Hunter College, and holds an MA in Social Work from Columbia University.

Peter Kleinbard, Executive Director, Youth Development Institute is a graduate of Yale University, he worked with young people in the performing arts prior to coming to New York, where he joined the National Commission on Resources for Youth (NCRY), and became the Executive Director of NCRY, promoting practices of youth participation, employment and service in schools and community organizations. In 1984, Mr. Kleinbard established the Young Adult Learning Academy (YALA) in New York City, a school that assists older youth who have dropped out of regular schools to enter employment and further education. In 1996, he joined the Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds where he conducted the largest national funding initiatives in education and career development for young adults. He joined the Fund for the City of New York in 2001, serving as Vice-President and Director of the Youth Development Institute (YDI). YDI left the Fund in 2007, and went under the national umbrella of the Tides Center. He has published widely in the youth field.

Sarah Zeller-Berkman, Director Beacons National Strategy, the Youth Development Institute, is a doctoral candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center. For the past seven years she has provided technical assistance to youth development programs in the NYC area by conducting trainings and onsite capacity building.  From 2003-2007 she worked in partnership with young people on participatory action research projects about issues that impact their lives, such as sexual harassment in schools, incarceration, parental incarceration and high stakes testing.  She has also worked as an evaluator of youth development initiatives, as a researcher of adult-youth partnerships in youth activist organizations, and a professor of youth studies.  In her current position as the director of the Beacons National Strategy Initiative she convenes local and national learning communities to explore quality youthwork practice as well as how to promote the Beacons as a whole.  She offers on-site capacity building on for both sites and lead agencies.  Sarah Zeller-Berkman has published articles in theJournal of Community, Youth and Environments, the Handbook of Qualitative Research, AfterSchool Matters, New Directions for Evaluation as well as for two textbook, Globalizing Cultural Studies and Children of Incarcerated Parents: Developmental and Clinical Implications.



Robert Abbot
Program Director
Youth and Family Services
Cypress Hills Local Development Corp.
625 Jamaica Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11208-1203

Anita M. Baker
Project Director
OMG Center for Collaborative Learning
1538 Walnut St
Suite 805
Philadelphia, PA 19102

Sandra Escamilla
Director of Programs
Youth Development Institute
1440 Broadway
Suite 1601
New York, NY 10018

Peter Kleinbard
Executive Director
Youth Development Institute
1440 Broadway, Suite 1601
New York, NY  10018

Sarah Zeller-Berkman
Beacons National Strategy
Youth Development Institute
1440 Broadway
Suite 1601
New York, NY 10018


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.