Achievement Gap or Development Gap? Afterschool Programs like All Stars Project Inc. Could be a Solution

Achievement Gap or Development Gap? Afterschool Programs like All Stars Project Inc. Could be a Solution
Particpants at the After School Growth Conference

The achievement gap- close it, narrow it, fix it…rename it?  What if we viewed it as a development gap?

Considering the schedules of many of the children I know (mine included), most middle class families need an organizing system to make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be when it comes to attending afterschool activities- Girl Scouts, soccer, piano lessons, and gymnastics.  Typically that can reflect just one portion of the school year.  These activities present tremendous learning opportunities and valuable experiences.  All contribute greatly to the development of the child.

Contrast that to a child living in poverty. Children of poverty are simply not exposed to opportunities anywhere near similar to their middle and upper class peers.  Remediation alone cannot solve the problem for a child so far behind.

All Stars Project Inc. prefers to refer to the issue of the achievement gap as a developmental gap.  Fostering development is allowing young people to grow, be creative, and shape rather than react to their circumstances.  That is precisely this non-profit afterschool program's mission.

According to Gabrielle Kurlander,  All Stars Project CEO,  “years of generational poverty and isolation have taken their toll on the ways these children view themselves and the world.  What they are in need of most is connection.  All Stars works to start development and make connections, bringing the young people into the mainstream.”

The All Stars Project is designed to promote development through afterschool and outside of school performance based programs.  Three parts of the program include: community theater in the form of  talent show production, leadership training via their Development School  for Youth, and volunteer initiatives that grow and strengthen communities.

I had the opportunity to talk with Gabrielle Kurlander, and David Cherry, Director of the All Stars Project of Chicago to discuss their program at the Erikson Institute.   The conference entitled  Afterschool Growth:  A Grassroots Conversation About Afterschool with Frontliners and Innovators, was organized by the All Stars Project of Chicago and the All Stars’ Institute for the Study of Play initiative. It was sponsored by the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, the Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation and Stephen Bowen, Esq.


Intrigued with the concept of a development gap, Ms. Kurlander explained it to me further, “people thought schools could be the great equalizer.  It puts too much pressure on teachers.  They can’t do it all.”  The All Stars Project seeks to improve the way children spend their hours away from school, providing them with opportunities that will translate into success in school.

ASP uses an out-of-the-box approach to foster growth---play, pretending, and performance.    “Performance is the basis of the All Stars Project because it is something we do all day long. When we teach people to perform, they step outside of their lives and do something different. This ignites an interest in learning.”

All Stars Talent Show Network reaches out to young people ages five to twenty-five offering them the opportunity to produce and perform hip-hop talent shows in their own neighborhoods. Performance workshops are held before the shows.

David Cherry has stood with volunteers at transit stops in some of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods passing out information and invitations to the area’s youth to encourage them to take part in a community talent show.  He’s been in Woodlawn and Englewood.  “Everyone makes the talent show.  All are welcome.”  The youth take part in every aspect of the talent show production.

“For so long the poor have been related to as recipients, receivers.  This talent show offers them an opportunity to give, to be leaders.  Poor people as well as wealthy people have something to give, “said Cherry.

As a result of participating in the talent shows, young people gain self-confidence, self-esteem, and potential.  One of the youth panelists at the conference stated it best, “if I can do this well, I can do well in school.”

Making connections on another level, All Stars Project focuses on inner-city youths and exposes them to the business community through The Development School for Youth (DSY).   With corporations as partners providing paid summer internships and executive led workshops, these young people learn how to “perform” in the broader world outside the limitations of their own neighborhoods.  Exposed to a variety of aspects of business, they can develop new interests.  DSY has leading partners in Latham & Watkins, Dun & Bradstreet, Nuveen Investments, Equity Residential, MetLife, Winston & Strawn, Grant Thornton and Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg.  Through DSY, youth are brought into the mainstream.   “Business partners want to help. They never had a way to connect but they do now through All Stars,” explained Kurlander.

Talented volunteers are a key component to the program.  After attending an orientation, they give their time staffing auditions and talent shows, helping in the office, producing events, and participating in grassroots efforts to reach youth.  Julie Lenner started as an All Star Project volunteer on the east coast several years ago.  She believed so strongly in its mission and remained so dedicated to the cause that it has led her to Chicago to the position of Director of Development.  “Our best volunteers are those that are willing to grow, just like the young people,” commented David Cherry.

When asked how parents could factor into the success of ASP, Mr. Cherry explained that the program views parents with a sense of respect.  The goal is to build a relationship with parents in the form of a partnership.  Realizing that parents need a support system is valuable, and with that in mind All Stars Project, Inc. provides that component through its on-line “university” UX.    Cherry relayed a story, “I’ve seen parents that accompany their children to an event including our business partners and they feel uncomfortable.  They are not experienced in these situations themselves, but they watch as their child performs in these setting.  They see the benefits, and they know that they too can grow and develop as well.”

The interview finished with me asking where the Afterschool Movement is heading.  Kurlander answered, “the hope is to get All Stars Project, Inc. on the radar.   We are 100% privately funded, we are not bureaucratic.  We want to connect with other groups in this arena and keep the field of afterschool educators diverse.”    Eventually she would like to see the movement have the ability to influence public policy.  “This movement is bigger than just one group. We see ourselves as allies and collaborators with programs like After School Matters.  There is room for everyone to make a difference in transforming social problems.”

Afterschool programs like the All Stars Project may be one remedy to help in solving the education crisis.  Improving the way children spend their hours away from school with valuable opportunities may be absolutely critical to their success in school.  All Stars Projects, Inc. programs currently run in the cities of New York, Newark, Chicago, and San Francisco.  The afterschool conference was sponsored by the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, the Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation and Stephen Bowen, Esq.

Make a gift or donate by clicking here .  To learn how to get your company involved, contact Julie Lenner, Director of Development, at (312) 994-3101 or  For general information call 312-360-0660.

Contact David Cherry, Director of the Chicago All Stars Project at  The All Stars Project of Chicago is located at 53 W. Jackson Blvd., Suite 1135, Chicago, IL 60604

Visit the All Stars Project, Inc.  website at

The conference featured other inspiring and innovative people making a difference in young people’s lives.  I hope to feature them in upcoming posts.  Stay tuned.  Please subscribe, comment, tweet, share, or contact me at













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    My name is Lisa Stiegman and I have been a Chicago area resident all my life. Besides being the mother of three children, I have been a writer, editor, and teacher.

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