Afterschool and summer programs are a lifeline for families

With federal recovery funds, states expand access

A little girl looks at books in a display on a table in a school gym.
From Alabama to Wyoming, American Rescue Plan funding can help states expand afterschool and summer learning. Photo: New Mexico Out-of-School Time Network

In communities around the country, afterschool and summer programs have been doing all they can to strengthen learning and support for young people during the pandemic and as schools reopen.

Throughout the past year, these programs have created learning hubs, teamed up with school districts to deliver meals, and sent books and school supplies to young people at their homes, in shelters and in foster care. To help kids stay healthy and connected to one another, they’ve provided mentoring and safe spaces for peer support in virtual, in-person and hybrid settings. They’ve also rolled out a wide range of engaging programs — from poetry slams and robotics clubs to small-business pitch contests.

In a grueling year, their efforts made a dramatic difference.

During the Open Minds, Open Spaces Town Hall, a forum hosted in October 2020 by members of the Mott-funded 50 State Afterschool Network, Seviah Limb, an afterschool student in Idaho, said, “What really gives me life is being able to interact with others. So having that taken away really reinforced how important it is for me to be able to participate in extracurricular activities.”

Rowan Ali, a forum participant who attends an afterschool program in Washington state, said, “You really helped build a safe place for students to flourish. Without that, the future might be a little bit harder to see and look forward to.”

Being a safe learning hub for youth and a lifeline for working families are just a two of the reasons why demand for afterschool programs has soared in recent years. In 2020, America After 3PM, a nationwide household survey conducted by Edge Research for the Afterschool Alliance, reported that 94% of parents are satisfied with their child’s afterschool program. AA3PM was conducted before the coronavirus pandemic and builds on household surveys conducted in 2004, 2009 and 2014.

Young boy sits in chair and talks about what afterschool means to him.
Noah Shaw, who participates in a Salt Lake City area Boys & Girls Club, calls it his “second home.”
Photo: Open Minds, Open Spaces

More than eight in 10 parents agree that afterschool programs “give working parents peace of mind, knowing that their children are safe and supervised” and “help working parents keep their jobs,” according to the survey. Parents also value how afterschool programs connect their children to science, technology, math and engineering opportunities and reduce unproductive screen time, the survey showed. And, across the political spectrum, parents express strong support for public funding for afterschool. The study found that 91% of Democrats, 87% of Independents and 85% of Republicans support such funding.

These findings were reinforced in a follow-up, national-level survey conducted during the pandemic (in October 2020) by Edge Research for the Afterschool Alliance. According to the later survey, roughly three in four parents agree both that afterschool programs are helping children build positive relationships with caring adults and mentors (77%) and providing support to parents who are trying to find jobs (73%).

But while parent satisfaction in afterschool is at an all-time high, many young people are still missing out. According to AA3PM, unmet demand for afterschool programs has grown by 60% since the first survey was conducted in 2004.

A graphic image showing that three in four children in America who want to attend afterschool programs cannot do so because there is not enough space in afterschool programs.
Illustration: Afterschool Alliance

In practical terms, this means that, for every child in an afterschool program, three (nearly 25 million children) are waiting to get in. Cost and transportation barriers are the biggest roadblocks, the survey showed. As these factors are tied to systemic inequities in income, housing and education, they disproportionately impact low-income families and Black and Latino families. The survey found that 58% of Black children and 55% of Latino children not in an afterschool program would be enrolled if a program were available.

“This new study paints a picture of unmet need, with the heaviest burdens falling on low-income families and families of color,” said Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance. “Without question, the pandemic is exacerbating the harm. If we want to emerge from this pandemic strong, we need to provide all our children and youth access to the important enrichment opportunities and resources afterschool programs provide.”

The education field is on this path. As a start, with funding available through the American Rescue Plan, a growing number of states, school districts and afterschool programs are putting together plans to tackle access barriers. Through their collaborative efforts, schools and communities can create comprehensive in-school, afterschool and summer learning experiences that help accelerate learning and support the recovery of young people of all backgrounds.

Expanding access to afterschool promises to make a profound difference in kids’ lives. Noah Shaw, who participates in a Boys & Girls Club in Utah and also took part in the Open Minds, Open Spaces forum said, “What I love most about Boys and Girls Club is the one-on-one time I get with staff and friends. I feel so safe here. It’s my second home. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”

The Mott Foundation provides general purpose support to the Afterschool Alliance, which commissioned the America After 3PM survey.