By Autumn Rivera
A new report from a national afterschool organization details both growing demand for afterschool programs in rural communities as well as increasing barriers for rural children to access them.
America After 3PM, conducted by Afterschool Alliance, is a nationally representative survey of randomly selected adults who live in the United States and are the parents or guardians of a school-age child who lives in their household.
Since 2004, Afterschool Alliance has periodically released its America After 3PM report which has provided the most comprehensive national and state-specific account of how children and youth spend their afterschool hours.
The surveys went out to 31,055 households, including 9,609 rural households. In December 2020, Afterschool Alliance released its newest survey report, "American After 3PM: Demand Grows, Opportunity Shrinks," which NCSL covered in a blog last year.
Following that main report release, Afterschool Alliance released additional special reports detailing issue-specific data, including a special report on afterschool and summer learning programs in rural communities.
This data was collected before schools changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and follow-up surveys were conducted to see how programs responded to the challenges. The America After 3PM Rural Communities report details parent satisfaction levels with the quality of afterschool programs, barriers to participation, and disparities in rural communities.
According to the parent responses from the national report, afterschool programs provide a safe environment for youth, where they are surrounded by trusted staff, can develop social skills and participate in both physical and academically enriching activities. Such learning opportunities offer students a chance to supplement and support their learning.
The programs serve children of all ages and include academic support, workforce development opportunities, mentoring relations and more. Additionally, the time between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. is the largest gap where students are out of school while parents may still be at work.
One of the biggest takeaways from America After 3PM is the continued demand for afterschool programs. However, the rural report details that the demand for afterschool and summer learning programs is now the highest recorded in those communities since the start of America After 3PM.
Unlike the overall report that stated for every child enrolled there are three waiting to get into afterschool programs, for rural communities, for every child enrolled four are waiting to be able to participate. This has been an overall rise from the last report which was released in 2014. In short, demand for afterschool program access is even higher in rural communities.
Barriers exist that continue to hinder youth in rural communities from participating in afterschool programs. According to the report, barriers for rural families include programs being too expensive, having trouble accessing transportation, programs being inconveniently located and an overall lack of programs being available. Additionally, rural communities of color and families with low incomes have even more unmet demand and greater barriers to participation.
Since the previous America After 3PM report, conducted in 2014, there has been an increase in rural parents reporting how these programs have benefitted their children. Working parents said one of those benefits is that having access to these programs is they help them keep their jobs and allow them to know that their children are in an environment that is both safe and supervised. The others include keeping kids engaged physically, interested in STEM and, overall, excited about learning.
The report includes a series of recommendations for afterschool and summer learning programs in rural communities. These include:
- Growing public awareness of the need of programs in rural communities.
- Improving the accessibility of afterschool programs in rural communities.
- Conducting more research to better understand the views about afterschool programs among rural parents of color.
- Increasing the overall support for rural afterschool programs.
While thinking about the ever-changing pandemic landscape and planning for the future, states, schools and families continue to seek ways to help reimagine learning. As students need help catching and keeping up this year and on, states could consider the role that afterschool and summer learning play for youth in rural communities.
Autumn Rivera is a policy associate with NCSL’s Education Program.