After school programs help students succeed in school and in life and provide invaluable support to communities. As we’ve seen this year, these programs play an especially important role when students, families, and communities are struggling.
Programs across the country have stepped up in the pandemic, providing virtual educational activities, delivering meals and enrichment kits, helping families bridge the digital divide, connecting people to social services, and continuing in-person care for the children of essential workers and first responders.
Unfortunately, a large majority of after school programs that were open in the fall of 2020 report they are straining to meet the needs of the students and families they have long supported. National surveys of parents and after school providers conducted by Edge Research for the After school Alliance, a nonprofit awareness and advocacy group, find that programs and parents are challenged by virtual learning; program budgets are inadequate to address new safety protocols and students’ emerging needs; and students from low-income families are now less likely than others to have access to after school programs.
To underscore the value of after school programs and the need to invest in them, the After school Alliance recently organized the 21st annual “Lights On After school,” the only national rally for after school. It took place throughout the fall and included local, state, and national events – many of them virtual this year – showcasing the skills students hone and talents they develop at their after school programs. From virtual STEM fairs and art contests to car caravans and letter-writing to isolated nursing home residents, events focused on academics, civic engagement, STEM education, social and emotional wellbeing, bullying prevention, mental and physical health, and more.
“The strength and resilience after school programs demonstrated in 2020 was remarkable. Despite scarce resources, programs found ways to help students through what has been, for many families, the hardest of times,” says Jodi Grant, executive director of the After school Alliance. “However, there aren’t nearly enough after school programs to meet the need, especially now, with so many schools functioning virtually and with school schedules changing without warning. We need to invest much more in after school and summer learning programs.”
To learn more about the After school Alliance and “Lights On After school,” which will next be held on October 28, 2021, visit aftershoolalliance.org.
“In normal times, after school programs help students succeed by keeping them safe, inspiring them to learn, and by supporting working parents,” says Grant. “During a pandemic, the support they provide is even more essential.”