A recent article in Washington Monthly highlighted the important role that afterschool programs play in closing the opportunity gap. That article could not have come at a better time, as Congress is working to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which includes 21st Century Community Learning Centers, the nation’s only federal investment dedicated to afterschool and summer programs. Like all of the initiatives included in ESEA, 21st CCLC is intended to support educational opportunity fairness across places – to ensure that all children, regardless of zipcode, have access to quality afterschool learning experiences that keep kids safe, support school success and help working families.
Recently, the Afterschool Alliance released a new infographic that pulls together research from America After 3PM and other sources to illustrate how afterschool helps close the opportunity gap. Like other parents who have children in afterschool and summer programs, I have first-hand experience with how afterschool programs can help build skills like collaboration and problem solving through structured interactions with peers and caring adults. These aren’t just nice to have skills, research shows that they are critical to academic achievement and success in life as well.
But, as our infographic shows, too many children don’t have access to quality afterschool programs and are missing out on valuable learning opportunities. Parents of children in afterschool programs recognize the important roles that programs play in supporting student success. For example, according to America After 3PM, 7 in 10 parents agree that afterschool programs help kids with homework, offer reading and writing and offer opportunities to learn science, math and more. With an academic achievement gap that has grown by 40%, it’s time to help others see what afterschool parents know – the value of learning that takes place outside the school day.
Hopefully this infographic will provide a compelling way for the afterschool community to convince policy makers (at all levels) and other key stakeholders of the critical role afterschool programs play in closing the achievement and opportunity gaps. With strong support from voters and parents and bipartisan support in Congress, afterschool programs are overdue for recognition as an essential strategy to bring achievement and opportunity back into balance for all children.
Jen Rinehart is Vice President, Research and Policy at the Afterschool Alliance.