A longtime partner of Scholastic and one of our Literacy Champions, the Afterschool Alliance works to ensure that all children have access to affordable, quality afterschool programs. It's also the only organization dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of afterschool programs and advocating for more afterschool investments.
Greg Worrell, President of the Scholastic Classroom & Community Group, sent a handful of questions to the Alliance's executive director, Jodi Grant. Here's what she has to say about the state of afterschool and expanded learning programs in the U.S.
Greg Worrell: Tell us about the goals and mission of the Afterschool Alliance and has there been any shifts given the changing federal landscape?
Jodi Grant: The Afterschool Alliance is working to ensure that all children and youth have access to affordable, quality afterschool programs. These programs keep kids safe, inspire them to learn and help working families. An overwhelming body of research now clearly shows that kids who participate in afterschool programs do better in school, attend school more often, and are more likely to graduate.
The good news is that 8.4 million kids are benefitting from these expanded learning opportunities. The bad news is that most are missing out: 15 million children across America are on their own after school. The parents of 18.5 million children would sign up for a program today—if one were available.
On the policy front, we also see challenges and opportunities. The good news is that the idea that learning can, and should, happen anywhere, anytime, and that our students need more relevant, hands-on learning opportunities, seems to be gaining traction. Afterschool programs are a natural place for this kind of learning, and have been incubators for some incredibly innovative programming.
The bad news is that policy currently under debate does not reflect this notion, and budget constraints are making matters worse. Budget cuts at every level are eating away at funding for afterschool and summer programs. So while education reform continues to be hotly debated, our children are actually losing the very learning supports they need to succeed.
GW: There are always discussions around what’s needed and what doesn’t work. Please share some success stories. What’s working?
JG: One of the best indicators of a quality expanded learning effort is how it leverages community resources—colleges, museums, arts groups, volunteers, community-based organizations, sports leagues, health care providers, businesses and others—to offer students hands-on activities that engage them in learning and nurture traits like curiosity, empathy and perseverance. Afterschool programs have developed an expertise in this arena.
We’ve also learned that the flexible, informal afterschool space is well-suited for exploring the practical applications of academic lessons, like learning the physics of skateboard design, or building literacy skills by writing and producing a play. These kinds of activities excite and inspire students to learn more.
On the other hand, a program that replicates what is happening in the school day tends to falter and lose participants.
So the key is to bring in community resources - artists, engineers, scientists and others – to partner with schools and give kids activities that engage them in multiple ways, on multiple levels, and complements the school day.
GW: With the heightened emphasis on CCSS and increased academic expectations, what role can out of school time programs play in supports school transition plans?
JG: Afterschool programs value their partnership with schools, and want to support the goals of their school partners. To that end, we are seeing many examples of afterschool providers and trainers aligning their programming with Common Core Standards.
For example, in Wisconsin, expanded learning programs are connecting with school curriculum online and directly with teachers. Programs include current and retired teachers on their staff to facilitate effective engagement with schools and the academic content students are learning. In New Jersey, the state afterschool network (NJSACC), in cooperation with the State Department of Education, is training program leaders on how to align activities and curriculum with the Common Core.
Given the strong relationship that afterschool providers have with parents and families, programs are also well positioned to help schools educate parents about the Common Core.
GW: Scholastic and the Alliance just partnered to compose an issue brief on the benefits of reading during out-of-school time. How can out of school time programs help to encourage students to read more?
JG: There are so many ways afterschool programs can incorporate reading into activities and start kids on the path toward a lifelong love of reading—whether an academic, recreational or arts program. The flexibility of afterschool programs really comes into play here. For example, in afterschool a student might read magazines and blogs that are relevant to their interests, an article by a role model, how-to manuals or non-fiction related to a hobby. They can go even further and engage students more deeply in their reading by discussing what they’ve read, or constructively critiquing each other’s own created works, whether poetry, spoken word or plays.
When kids are engaged and habitual readers, they become better at reading, are more enthusiastic about school, are more focused in school, improve their critical thinking skills and build their self-confidence. Afterschool programs play an integral part in connecting students to the enjoyment that comes from reading, as well as the many benefits of it.