Parent Jamie Keith is quite clear about the impact of her daughter’s participation in the River City Drum Corps afterschool program.
“Programming like this allows children to see themselves,” says Jamie, “which is an extremely positive way to feed into their self-esteem. It also gives them a sense of accountability, a sense of being able to do something as a group and accomplish it.”
While Jamie’s daughter Imani is now in college, Jamie found a community in the program, and remains in contact with River City and other families from the program.
Jamie and Imani are not alone. Afterschool programs like River City Drum Corps provide a special opportunity to connect with parents and families and help students build the skills they need to thrive in school and life. Across the country, local afterschool programs serve as a lifeline for many, keeping kids safe while parents work, providing hands-on, engaging learning opportunities, and offering myriad supports for families.
During the pandemic, these supports look different but have become all the more critical: Programs have been delivering meals, offering in-person and virtual learning opportunities, supporting remote learning and providing safe learning centers, and checking in on children’s and families’ well-being. Afterschool student Ramaya Thomas explains that her program has helped her relieve stress and stay connected during the pandemic.
“What was particularly hard on me was my mental health,” Ramaya says, “and one thing that my afterschool program really honed in on was Mental Health Mondays. This allowed us to get away from the academic setting that a lot of us are stressed out about and hone in on what we needed, not only as students but as children in a pandemic, and as leaders—as part of our community.”
As students face unprecedented challenges today, afterschool and summer learning programs are key partners for schools seeking to help students and families re-engage, re-connect, and recover. Schools can’t, and shouldn’t, shoulder the burden alone. We need to tap every resource in a community to help our children thrive. And, thanks to new funding from the federal government, we have the resources for schools and local afterschool programs to join forces and make a powerful impact in the lives of our children.
Here are the opportunities before us:
Help students learn, grow, and thrive. Learning loss and mental health concerns stemming from the pandemic are paramount concerns. Afterschool and summer learning programs serve a diverse range of students and focus on the whole child, offering enriching activities that engage young people in hands-on learning and encourage them to try new things. Staff are trained to help kids talk about their emotions, gain confidence, build healthy relationships, and heal from trauma. Decades of research shows that students who regularly participate in quality afterschool programs develop strong social skills, are more excited about learning, improve their work habits and grades, attend school more regularly, have higher graduation rates, and gain critical workforce skills. See more on research and outcomes of afterschool participation here.
Re-connect with families. Parent engagement supports student success. Afterschool programs, many of which are run by community-based organizations, have close ties to the families they serve and provide schools a line of communication and engagement with families. Programs can share information, offer guidance and assistance to parents who may be overwhelmed, and help coordinate parent-teacher meetings. Afterschool programs also have the ability to tailor services to their community, such as by operating into the evening hours and on weekends to facilitate parent involvement, or by providing educational classes, counseling, and/or connections to social services. See more on family engagement and afterschool programs here.
Leverage funding and local expertise to form afterschool partnerships. The American Rescue Plan provides the resources needed for schools to partner with program providers. State and local education agencies have $122 billion that can be used to partner with afterschool and summer program providers to address the academic, social, and emotional needs of students. State afterschool networks are great resources to help districts find local partners serving disadvantaged students and provide guidance on implementing quality programming. Visit www.helpkidsrecover.org for details on funding available, experts in your area, and tips on implementation.
School leaders are starting to seize the opportunity presented by new funding to team up with community-based afterschool and summer program providers to support students and families. In Mississippi, Jackson Public Schools engaged local providers to develop programs that align with their instruction and accelerate learning. Offerings address topics such as literacy, science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (the subjects collectively known as STEAM), foreign languages, and other academic enrichment; homework assistance; health, fitness, and arts; and pandemic-specific social supports. In Hartford, Connecticut, Superintendent Dr. Torres-Rodriguez teamed up with local providers to provide programs during the summer of 2021 to support enrichment, healthy peer relationships, positive youth development opportunities, and college and career readiness. To see more examples of partnerships, go to Examples of States Using Recovery Funding on helpkidsrecover.org.
Educators and afterschool providers have a golden opportunity to help students emerge from this crisis strong, resilient, and hopeful. By tapping new funding and existing out-of-school time program providers, we can make a profound investment in the lives of children and youth—especially the most vulnerable. As Superintendent Torres-Rodriguez said, “I need help from our partners to help us help our students find joy and begin to build their relationships again, not only with their peers, but with their community.”
To learn more about creating a partnership with afterschool programs in your area, the evidence base for programming, and examples of existing partnerships, and to learn about the funds that are available to cultivate partnerships, visit helpkidsrecover.org.