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Schools Urged to Use After-school, Community Programs to Help in Reopening

afterschool: School building, partly brick

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Schools face challenges reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic and after-school programs can be a vital partner in meeting kids’ needs, filling schedule gaps and sharing resources, after-school leaders say.

After-school and summer program leaders are trying to get heard. It’s as if they’re standing on a hilltop and waving: We can he-e-e-l-l-p you!

They are armed with resources that they think schools need. 

“If we are going to be able to open our economy, we need to think big and bold about where some of our resources are,” said Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance, in a virtual briefing for congressional staff on Tuesday.

Her point was that school reopenings in 2020 are likely to look very different from the usual school day.

If schools need to stagger student attendance this fall — some students in the morning and some in the afternoon, for example — where will kids go the other half of the day?

Do schools need to figure out best practices for part-digital and part in-person instruction this fall? Some summer learning programs, such as the ones offered by the Children’s Defense Fund Minnesota, are experimenting with that now. 

Will students need increased attention in this time of upheaval — both academically and emotionally? After-school programs have established relationships with kids and families in their communities. 

“After-school needs to be at the table when figuring out reopening schools,” Grant said. She was talking about the community organizations, parks and recreation departments, libraries and science centers that provide activities for kids year in and year out. They constitute an informal education system that advocates say has extensive experience focusing on the whole child, not just the academic. She was also referring to the city after-school networks that coordinate out-of-school time for entire cities.

Grant is seeking a one-time $500 million increase in the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative that provides after-school funding to states.

Addressing kids’ well-being 

Children and youth have been in social isolation since the pandemic began.

“It’s very concerning to me where they’re at emotionally,” said Principal Kim Templeman of Central Oak Elementary School in Oklahoma City, at the virtual briefing. Her Title I school in an urban area has a 21st Century-funded after-school and summer program, Project STREAM. 

When school was shut down in the spring, Project STREAM staff and teachers contacted students for wellness checks and to provide meals and school packets. Project STREAM will offer digital learning this summer as well as activities at three park sites where lunch is delivered to families. Staff recently rode through the neighborhoods on a school bus to promote the summer learning program.

Across the country, many after-school programs have been in touch with the kids they serve, delivering meals, activity packets and other assistance. They are positioned to assess and address kids’ and families’ needs, say after-school leaders.

School reopening plans have been envisioned by several think tanks and groups of education leaders. The Council of Chief State School Officers has developed a framework, as has the American Federation of Teachers, the American Enterprise Institute, Aspen Institute, Chiefs for Change and the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning – CASEL.

The American Institutes for Research has been assessing the plans based on their attention to the needs of the “whole child.”

After-school programs provide enrichment to kids in an environment where relationships flourish, said AIR Managing Director Deborah Moroney at the briefing.

They are integrated into communities and know the families.

“They can gauge well-being,” she said.

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