Why Afterschool Programs are Needed Now More Than Ever

Today’s article covers a vital component of many children and parent’s lives – afterschool programs. With the expertise he’s gained as the creator of CommunityPass helping recreation centers and schools across the country, Joseph Oriente shares his thoughts on the current and future state of afterschool programs.

With 10.2 million children participating in afterschool programs annually, it’s no secret that out-of-school learning is essential. Afterschool programs not only benefit youth participants but also lighten the load for parents, allowing them to go to work or take care of other responsibilities without the added worry of figuring out child care.  

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, kids had less time in school and unemployment was at a high, shedding new light on the need for afterschool experiences. But simultaneously, those same program leaders faced challenges of temporary closures, lack of funding, moving to virtual programming, and the unpredictability of the pandemic. Needless to say, it was not an easy transition.

Now that we’re a good chunk of the way into 2021, don’t cancel your afterschool program fundraiser just yet! In fact, afterschool programs are needed now more than ever, and we now know the specific ways to open safely. 

We at CommunityPass work directly with afterschool leaders and saw firsthand how COVID-19 affected afterschool programming. To better prepare your own program for the rest of 2021 and promote safety for your students, continue reading this guide.

The Importance Of Afterschool Programs

Afterschool programs serve children of all ages and encompass many subjects and focus areas, including academic, mentorship, arts, and sports. 

International research done by the Afterschool Alliance showcases how important these programs were for youth social and emotional development pre-pandemic. These programs offered opportunities for learning new skills, receiving education support, and showing self-expression and identity. On top of that, afterschool programs:

  • Provided students from low-income or marginalized backgrounds with critical resources such as computers or healthy meals. (source)
  • Helped narrow the learning gap from prolonged periods of out-of-school time. (source)
  • Improved general student behavior, both academically and socially. 69% of students in afterschool programs showed improvement in homework and class participation, 62% improved class behavior, and 1 in 2 improved math and reading grades. (source)

The same research also revealed that demand for afterschool programs was at an all-time high before the pandemic hit. For every child in an afterschool program, there were three more waiting to get in. 74% of parents reported that afterschool programs actively helped them keep their jobs.

Whether you’re in charge of your specific afterschool program or manage the funding behind school programs, it’s clear that afterschool programs brought much needed benefits to students and helped close many gaps created by outside factors. But what happened once the pandemic hit?

How COVID-19 Impacted Afterschool Programming

Initial Reactions

At the beginning of the pandemic, it was reported that 78% of afterschool programs pivoted to virtual programming, while 16% stayed open to serve essential worker families.

However, over a year later, some afterschool programs are still struggling. In fact, 3 in 4 afterschool programs might close permanently due to lack of funding. 

Unintended Consequences

Although the pandemic positively reinforced how essential schools are, it had the unintended consequence of pushing afterschool programs to the periphery. Many afterschool programs had to close their doors during the height of the pandemic, especially as leaders brainstormed the best ways to open in-person safely. 

Because of this, parents’ worry and anxiety over balancing their children’s wellbeing with financial concerns rose. According to the results from The Afterschool Alliance’s Online Survey Results from October 2020:

  • 84% of parents are concerned about their child’s social and emotional wellbeing.
  • 55% of parents are concerned about the increase in unsupervised time for their child.
  • 3 in 4 parents agree that the experience of the pandemic has made them appreciate teachers and afterschool program providers more than ever.

The survey also reported that 49% of children not in an afterschool program during the fall of 2020 would participate in one in-person, virtually, or a hybrid of the two, if it were available. While opening up afterschool programs is not as great of a concern as getting kids back to school, it’s clear that the need is still there and steadily persistent. 

Funding Possibilities

One approach several states have taken to boost student learning is to utilize state and federal funding to support afterschool programs. 

The Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed into law on March 27, included:

  • $13.5 billion to the Elementary and Secondary Education Relief (ESSER) Fund
  • $3 billion to the Governors Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund
  • $14.25 billion to the Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEER) Fund

Following the CARES Act, Congress passed the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA) on December 27th, 2020. This gave an additional $54.3 billion to the ESSER Fund and $1.3 billion to the GEER Fund. 

Most recently, on March 11, 2021, The American Rescue Plan Act was passed. This provided $166 billion through the Education Stabilization Fund, divided across the ESSER Fund, Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools Program, and HEER Fund.

Program leaders should look to their state to see how these funds are distributed. For example:

  • Alabama allocated $9 million in GEER funds to support intensive before and after school tutoring to help combat learning loss. (source)
  • Vermont devoted $6 million for school-age providers to use for afterschool programs. (source)

If the type and amount of funding that your school programs receive is still unclear, it might be time to also start brainstorming other fundraising event ideas. 

Maintaining a careful balance between an engaging event, raising a lot of money, and keeping everyone COVID-19 protected was a pain point last year. However, many school leaders actually found great success in pivoting some of their regular fundraising events to virtual, with the help of some key tools and live streaming platforms. 

Promoting Wellness And Safety In Your Own Program

A year into the pandemic and public life seems to be settling into a new normal. Many afterschool programs are open or on their way to opening up fully, while child care providers and teachers are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in all states. 

Afterschool program leaders also have a much better idea now of how to quickly respond to sudden changes and the best safety measures to instill. Here are our top tips for promoting wellness and health within your own program:

  • Use afterschool program software to digitize your processes. Facilitate online registrations and payments, including deposits, monthly billing, and automatic payments. Look for a solution with specific COVID-19 safety measures like contactless check-ins and check-outs with tablets, capacity limits and waitlists, flexible scheduling, attendance data for contact tracing, online forms and digital waivers, and contactless communication through integrated email and text messaging. 
  • Make sure to implement nonpharmaceutical interventions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention like maintaining social distancing, taking temperatures and health screenings, encouraging masking, and prioritizing handwashing. 
  • Train staff in new COVID-19 safety guidelines as well as in social-emotional learning to better help kids going through a tough time. Store this training documentation in your afterschool program software so that you and employees can refer to it.
  • Modify hours to work better with current school schedules. Schools are slowly going back to in-person, with some already there, some sticking to virtual learning, and others doing a hybrid class situation. Afterschool programs should align with local school schedules if they want to effectively serve their community. 
  • Instill a dependable communication system through text messages and emails. This way, if there’s new legislation or an event has to be canceled for one reason or another, you can quickly relay this information and ensure that parents, programming staff, and volunteers are on the same page. Implementing a reliable system now will ensure that all future programming goes smoothly.
  • Brainstorm school fundraising ideas to help support your afterschool programs. Consider partnering with your school’s parent teacher association or dedicated fundraising team to come up with engaging ideas (like online auctions and other virtual events) that are COVID-19 safe revenue boosters. 

For the most relevant information on how to safely open up your afterschool program, be sure to look up your state’s specific guidance or other COVID-19 resources

Many state afterschool networks have COVID-specific information to help support different needs. For in-depth advice, check out the CDC, American Camp Association, and National Summer Learning Association.

Wrapping Up

If your doors were closed last year, then opening up community programming this year may seem daunting. However, by following our tips and educating yourself on current guidelines, you can still have an exciting summer ahead of you. Good luck!

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