higher education schools reopening covid

A recent report from the Afterschool Alliance showed more demand than ever for summer and afterschool programs.

Reengaging Students With Afterschool and Summer Learning Programs

By Autumn Rivera | Aug. 5, 2021 | State Legislatures News | Print

As states, schools and families seek ways to reengage students academically and social-emotionally, afterschool and summer learning programs have provided some of the answers.

Jodi Grant from the Afterschool Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group, and Terry Peterson from the Riley Institute at Furman University joined a recent NCSL virtual meeting to discuss the ways states can use federal resources to support high-quality learning opportunities.

Susan Stanton from Illinois’ Afterschool for Children and Teens (ACT Now) Coalition provided on-the-ground examples of how states can support afterschool and summer learning through policy.

Federal Support

Grant kicked off the boot camp by summarizing provisions of the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) and stating how it could be a boost for afterschool and summer learning programs. Grant pointed out that, to address learning loss, the bill requires state education departments to reserve at least 5% and local school districts at least 20% of the resources they received from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER III).

ARP ESSER III also has a 1% set-asides each for summer school programs and for afterschool programs, in addition to the 5% set-aside. The bill states that allowable learning loss interventions include comprehensive afterschool, summer learning or summer enrichment, extended day schedules and extended school years.

Grant spent time focusing on how partnering with summer and afterschool enrichment programs can help schools reach more students and provide a variety of opportunities. These opportunities can include social and emotional supports, mental health services, specialized support for students who have fallen behind, and more.

Grant cited the Afterschool Alliance’s 2020 America After 3PM (AA3) report showing more demand than ever before for summer and afterschool programs. For every child in afterschool, she said, three are waiting for an available program. For every child in a summer program, one more is waiting to get in. As demand has increased, the research also showed that the pandemic has exacerbated the inequalities in access to afterschool programs for Black, Latino and low-income families. AA3’s state-specific survey results can be found here.

The pandemic has exacerbated the inequalities in access to afterschool programs for Black, Latino and low-income families.

Grant also offered suggestions for how state legislators could address the unmet demand for afterschool and summer programs and rebuild education stronger than before. She said state legislators could consider encouraging state and local education agencies to use ARP dollars for community partnerships via legislation or by supporting high-quality examples.

To illustrate how states are handling this, NCSL summarized legislative trends. One way policymakers have addressed unfinished learning is through legislation expanding and supporting afterschool and summer learning programs. These trends include appropriating funds, expanding summer programs, offering grant programs, requiring recovery plans, allowing credit for extended learning opportunities and offering literacy assistance in summer and afterschool programs. To read more about this topic, see our latest blog post on unfinished learning trends.

Evidence and Research

Terry Peterson, with the Riley Institute, emphasized that “The Evidence Base for Summer Enrichment and Comprehensive Afterschool Opportunities,” a report he co-wrote with researcher Deborah Vandell, details how “well-designed and well-developed” afterschool and summer programs affect learning and youth development. Peterson also noted that research from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found summertime experiences were valuable for academic learning, social and emotional development, and physical and mental health and safety.

Peterson asked how this evidence can be used to expand “well-designed and well-delivered summer opportunities.”

First, he said, the research confirmed the importance of developing policies that emphasize student success. This can include, for example, programs focusing on hands-on learning, team building, and encouraging career and college exploration. He also mentioned that the RAND Corp. detailed how summer programs were linked to math, reading, and social and emotional learning gains. The programs’ common elements included voluntary, full-day programming, a lack of participation fees, and free transportation.

He encouraged policies to expand access, increase participation and identify youths most in need of opportunities. He suggested using federal stimulus funds in the education, child care and workforce spaces; modifying state formulas for summer/afterschool programs; and making funds for transportation available. Peterson pointed out that working with statewide afterschool networks is a fundamental way to support program quality improvements. He said opportunities exist to leverage summer learning and afterschool programs to connect more middle and high school students to career and college exploration.

Afterschool Networks

The speakers frequently referenced afterschool networks. Statewide afterschool networks are diverse groups of organizations and stakeholders working together to share best practices and advocate for afterschool and summer learning programs in their states.

Susan Stanton, who leads Illinois’ afterschool network, the Illinois ACT Now Coalition, joined NCSL to talk about afterschool in her state and the policies lawmakers have enacted to support quality afterschool and summer programming. Stanton showed Illinois’ statewide afterschool map and explained how it was used to identify program “deserts.”

She also described how the state pays for afterschool programs:

  • The Legislature allocates funding to the state Department of Human Services to administer the Teen REACH program and community grants.
  • The state uses funding from cannabis revenue through the Restore, Reinvest, Renew program.
  • The Legislature allocates general revenue funds to the After School Programs grant program.
  • The state receives federal funding from the Nita M. Lowry 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. Stanton said the state Board of Education suggested using its COVID relief funding for high-impact tutoring, afterschool and summer learning program set-asides, and for community schools.

To learn more about these subjects, watch the recording of the meeting.

Autumn Rivera is a policy analyst with NCSL’s Education Program.

Additional Resources