As school districts close down across the country, numerous after-school programs are following suit. They’re scrambling to deal with the unprecedented situation of a pandemic, COVID-19, and to mitigate hardships kids and families face as schools and businesses close.
Among them is After School All Stars, which saw its last open program — the one in Hawaii — shut its doors on Monday.
After School All Stars is a free after-school program serving 90,000 children in 60 cities across the country. More than 82% of its kids are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches.
The organization’s immediate goals are to 1) shift its program online and 2) raise money for food assistance.
“We should be able to reach most students at home online,” said Ben Paul, president and CEO, on Monday. In the next few weeks, he hopes to offer a half-hour of guided physical exercise online each day and a half-hour of programming to address kids’ social and emotional needs.
The organization is also beginning a fund-raising campaign to pay for food vouchers for families.
After School All Stars is in many ways well-positioned to provide online resources to its kids. As a national organization with branches across the country, it routinely holds meetings using a variety of tools such as Skype and Office 365. The organization also has amassed a lot of programming, Paul said.
“We have a robust online library of curricula,” he said.
Most of the students are in school districts that have their students using laptops or iPads.
“Most of our students are able to get online,” Paul said.
After School All Stars will launch a pilot program starting next week to provide virtual programming. He hopes the program can be in place nationally in the next couple of weeks.
The content is not academic, he said. One goal is to get kids moving with physical exercise. The social and emotional curriculum is intended to supplement and not supplant school curriculum.
Paul expects students to be out of school until the fall, he said.
The big question for After School All Stars is whether kids will make use of the programming.
“One truism of afterschool is that it’s not mandatory. If you want kids to show up, you have to be engaging,” Paul said.
After School All Stars’ other effort is to provide vouchers that families can use at local grocery stores.
“As far as we can tell, meals for the students are being addressed,” Paul said. “All the districts are doing some form of grab-and-go meal service.”
Groceries for the whole family, however, remain a big need. The effort to provide vouchers “is still evolving,” he said.