Michigan ramps up afterschool to support more young people and their families

A middle school aged boy poses with his favorite chicken that hatched as part of an afterschool project during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A participant in the Downtown Boxing Gym afterschool program lets a chicken flap on his shoulder. Raising chickens and learning about closed-loop food systems are among the many enrichment activities at DBG in Detroit. Photo: Cristina Wright

With increasing investments in afterschool and summer learning programs, the state of Michigan has become a national leader in support for out-of-school-time education. You need only to listen to young people participating in afterschool programs — and their families — to understand how such support translates to positive impact.

High school senior Alani Harris, 18, started out at the New City Kids: Grand Rapids afterschool program as a seventh grader and now serves as a paid teen life intern for the program. He uses what he earns to help support himself and his family, including his mother, grandmother and two younger siblings. He said the afterschool program has given him a platform for success and placed him on track to attend and graduate from college.

A young man gives piano lessons using multiple keyboards that are on tables in the room.
High school senior Alani Harris, 18, gives piano lessons to first graders in the New City Kids: Grand Rapids afterschool program. Photo: Courtesy of New City Kids: Grand Rapids

“New City Kids is definitely a place that changed my life in so many ways,” Harris said. “This place has always been there for me.”

Harris wants to attend Hope College or Calvin University and possibly study ministry and music.

“They’re the main reason I’m going off to college this year,” Harris said. “College used to seem impossible for me, but look where I am now.”

Students pose for a group shot in the courtyard of a animal shelter.
Isabelle “Izzy” York (red hat), fellow students, afterschool educators and volunteers gather around a doghouse the students made from recycled materials and donated to the Cherryland Humane Society through the SEEDS EcoSchool afterschool and summer learning program. Photo: Courtesy of SEEDS EcoSchool

Eighth grader Isabelle “Izzy” York, 14, enjoys all the field trips, homework help, and educational activities and games offered in her SEEDS EcoSchool afterschool and summer learning program in northern Michigan. York’s mother, Jen McGillivray, likes how the program has helped improve her daughter’s self-confidence and willingness to try new things.

“I love how much joy it brings her,” McGillivray said. “I like how they do education, but it’s fun-based learning. She’s learning, and she doesn’t even realize it.”

A daughter and mom pose at the base of a boxing rink.
Mye (left) and Krystal Copeland say the staff at DBG feel “100% like family.” Photo: Cristina Wright

Mye Copeland, a 14-year-old eighth grader from Detroit, has developed multiple new skills by participating in the afterschool program at the Downtown Boxing Gym, a Charles Stewart Mott Foundation grantee. She’s attended the program on Detroit’s east side for the last six and a half years.

“I’m learning new things I didn’t learn before,” Copeland said. “I learned how to debate, how to cook and how to do 3D printing. And I wrote a problem-solving book about a Martian in space.”

Copeland’s mother, Krystal, a social worker, said DBG has been a lifeline for their family.

“This place is our village,” she said. “It’s 100% like family.”

Two elementary school children play drums.
Children play musical instruments at the Guided Grace Family and Youth Services Enrichment and Mindfulness Camp, an afterschool program in Saginaw. Photo: Cristina Wright

These are just a few examples of the wide variety of out-of-school-time programs and the positive impacts they have on young people and their families throughout Michigan. While similar stories can be told by afterschool programs across the United States, Michigan is leading the way, according to Jodi Grant, executive director for the Afterschool Alliance, a Mott Foundation grantee.

“Michigan is one of the state leaders in the afterschool movement,” Grant said. “States are looking at what Michigan is doing and wanting to replicate that.”

The Mott Foundation is a longtime supporter of the afterschool field, having granted nearly $430 million since 1998 to increase access to high-quality afterschool programs across the U.S. That includes more than $95 million Mott has granted in its home state of Michigan since 2001. The Foundation also supports afterschool networks in all 50 states.

“The Mott Foundation is one of the big reasons why there is an afterschool field and why there is evidence and research that shows the value of afterschool and summertime learning on academic, professional and interpersonal skills for our students,” Grant said.

A young high schooler stands in front of a map as she poses for the camera.

Afterschool program, mentor change life for high school senior

Deyana “Dee Dee” Surles grew up thinking she was going to drop out of high school. Instead, she’s flourishing as an 18-year-old high school senior who was recently named her class valedictorian.

She attributes her amazing turnaround to the Guided Grace Family and Youth Services Enrichment and Mindfulness Camp, an afterschool program in Saginaw, Michigan.

“It helped me a lot. It impacted my grades a lot. I went to being on the honor roll. I pretty much get all A’s now,” Surles said. “It helped me with my social skills and getting me out in the world.”

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Mott has long seen the value of afterschool and summer learning programs, going all the way back to 1935, when founder Charles Stewart Mott and local educator Frank Manley first introduced the concept of “lighted schoolhouses” to the Foundation’s hometown of Flint. That program opened school buildings to students and families during afterschool hours.

The Foundation, which still has a major focus on afterschool today, applauds recent action at the state level.

“We’re pleased to see that Michigan has prioritized afterschool as a key strategy for supporting kids and families,” said Ridgway White, president and CEO of the Mott Foundation. “And we look forward to working with leaders across the state as they continue to expand educational opportunities for all of our young people. We also hope other states will follow suit.”

Michigan’s leadership in the afterschool field is due, in part, to recent successive increases in support from the state for afterschool education — from $10 million two years ago to $25 million last year and $50 million this year. This funding places Michigan third in the nation in support for afterschool, behind only California and New York. In addition, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently proposed another $50 million for afterschool as part of the state’s 2024-25 budget. The state’s afterschool program will be run out of the Michigan Department of Lifelong Education and Potential, or MiLEAP, a newly established state department prioritizing preschool through postsecondary opportunities for young people to thrive.

Afterschool providers greatly appreciate and are excited about the state’s investment and hope it continues, according to Erin Skene-Pratt, executive director of the Michigan Afterschool Partnership, which leads the state’s afterschool network. She estimates that 67,000 Michigan young people will be served in afterschool and summer learning programs with the $50 million allocated by the state this year.

“The state sees the value afterschool programming brings to youths and to families, and they see how many youths are served with the funds provided,” Skene-Pratt said. “But there’s a need for so much more.”

According to a national survey of parents commissioned by the Afterschool Alliance in 2022, for every child in an afterschool program, another four are waiting to get in. The Alliance’s 2020 America After 3 p.m. survey confirmed this is also true in Michigan.

The wait is even greater at DBG. While 250 young people participate in the Detroit program on a regular basis, there’s a list of more than 2,000 waiting to get in, according to Peter Fezzey, chief advancement officer for the organization.

Access to quality programs can make a big difference in a young person’s life.

“Evidence-based research demonstrates the positive impact of these programs on academic outcomes and the development of 21st century skills, such as critical thinking and collaboration,” Skene-Pratt said. “We know that, with the state’s academic scores having decreased in recent years, schools can’t do this alone. They need help and partnership with out-of-school-time programs.”

A grandmother poses with her twin grand children.
Sylvia Rodea (center) loves the academic progress her twin grandchildren have made since attending their afterschool program. Photo: Cristina Wright

Sylvia Rodea said she doesn’t have to look at the research to know afterschool programming works for her twin grandchildren, Selena and Santiago Rodea, who are 6 years old. They attend the Guided Grace Family and Youth Services Enrichment and Mindfulness Camp, an afterschool program in Saginaw.

“I feel like they’re in good care and in good hands. I don’t have to worry about them,” she said. “They’re having fun and learning at the same time. Because of this program, they’re doing very well in school.”

In recognition of the importance of afterschool and summer learning, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona launched the Engage Every Student Initiative in July 2022. The goal is to ensure every child has access to a quality out-of-school-time program. The Biden administration also recently listed expanding afterschool programs as one of three goals to improve student achievement nationwide.

Thanks, in part, to education and advocacy by the Afterschool Alliance, the Mott-supported 50 State Afterschool Network and others, many states used the influx of COVID-relief dollars on afterschool and summer learning programs to offset the learning loss young people experienced during the pandemic. But with the one-time COVID money due to expire, the key is continuing this critical support with other funding — as Michigan is doing with state budget dollars. Sustaining support will largely be dependent on states, Grant said.

More needs to be done, particularly to support African American, Hispanic and low-income families, because that’s where the gaps of supply and demand are the greatest, according to America After 3 p.m.

The survey also shows overwhelming satisfaction with afterschool programs and strong public support for increasing funding for out-of-school-time learning. Nationally, 94% of parents report being satisfied with afterschool programs. In Michigan, that number is even higher — 98%. And 87% of parents nationwide support public funding for afterschool. That figure is closely mirrored in Michigan, where 86% of parents support it.

Two young girls and their mother sit in from of a library vending machine.
Flint mom Diar Riley-Houston (right) says the Thrive On afterschool program at Freeman Elementary School in Flint has helped her daughters with their reading and math skills. Photo: Cristina Wright

Flint mom Diar Riley-Houston sees the value in afterschool programming for her two daughters, Jhadera, 10, and Maddison, 6. They attend the Thrive On afterschool program at Freeman Elementary School in Flint. The Flint Center for Educational Excellence, which the Mott Foundation supports through grants to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, provides all afterschool programming at Freeman. The program has helped improve their reading and math scores and provides them with hip-hop and majorette dance classes, which they love.

“The afterschool program is really awesome,” Riley-Houston said. “I greatly appreciate it. It’s one of the best programs you can ask for.”