#41 The Equity Gap with Quality After-School Programs

#41 – The Equity Gap with Quality After-School Programs    

Classroom instruction represents only one facet of the learning that students need to thrive and flourish as life-long learners. Rigid curriculum requirements and strict standards environ students in a learning experience that frequently assesses content knowledge in a limited scope. Fixation on data prevents students from fully exploring intellectual or personal passions in the classroom.  

The opportunity for students to delve deeper into the topics that pique their passions or stir their innate curiosity often arises in the after-school space. After-school time signifies a sacred space free from the confines of state-mandated standards that students need to master.  

Students can inquire. Students can explore. Students can readily take risks. Students can challenge and collaborate with their peers and other adults.     

In many affluent schools with a majority of white students, numerous high-quality programs abound that focus on the mental, social, and emotional health of students. Students have incredible options from which to choose that will cultivate the necessary skills for them to compete at each new academic and career stage. In lower-income schools, enriched experiential opportunities are much less readily available.       

Research from the Wallace Foundation report, “The Value of Out-of-School Time Programs” cites that affluent families will spend at least seven times more on enrichment experiences for their children than lower-income families. The spending gap between high-income and low-income families drives deeper divisions between their children. Schools without access to extensive funds struggle to engage students in the out-of-school space beyond sports, academic remediation plans, or disciplinary infractions.  

Beyond the spending gap that prevents low-income students from accessing enriched education experiences after the traditional school day, a tremendous learning gap arises from the lack of exposure. The nonprofit ExpandED Schools, based in New York City, aims to close the learning gap by providing more access to enriched educational experiences for low-income students. In specific, ExpandED Schools has found that by sixth grade, students in poverty have experienced a 6,000-hour learning gap when compared to middle-class students. 

Lower-income students lose additional hours in the school building. ExpandED calculated that lower-income children lose 3,060 hours in school as they are significantly less likely to be enrolled in enriching after-school programs or extracurricular activities. 

Without access to quality after-school programming, students can easily become discouraged and disconnected from school and not recognize how education can operate as a lever to upward mobility in the future.  

The nonprofit intermediary focused on leveling access and opportunities to the highest-needs students in Charlotte, MeckEd, addresses the opportunity gap created when few meaningful enrichment experiences exist for students in low-income areas. In their Charlotte NEXT initiative, MeckEd launched an online tool to help families access Out-of-School time programs that align with the interests, focus areas, age and grade level, time, availability, budget, and transportation requirements of their child.    

Studies suggest that middle school students enter a critical period of their adolescence in which they begin to develop aspirations, ambitions, and craft their self-identity. In the United States, over 15 million children are left alone between 3:00 PM–6:00 PM so the opportunity to connect students with an elevated Out-of-School experience could radically alter their life trajectory.

Beyond the Locator tool, MeckEd also funded five Out-of-School providers who served 200 students across three CMS middle schools: Albemarle Road Middle School, James Martin Middle School, and Sedgefield Middle School in the 2018-2019 school year.

MeckEd will again prioritize the three middle schools from 2018 and fund providers dedicated to working with middle school students. MeckEd also maintains high-level metrics to hold providers accountable to the fulfilling and comprehensive experience students deserve. MeckEd focuses on access, participation and school attendance, student behavior, and quality feedback. 

Beyond the four performance areas, MeckEd also prioritizes that at least 70% of students participate in two-thirds of programming, 60% of students maintain or improve school attendance, 70% of students maintain or improve positive behavior, and 80% of students, families, and schools have a positive experience of a Charlotte NEXT funded program. 

The more opportunities that students can experience a genuine joy of learning to explore self, community, and the world will create durable memories that can last a lifetime. The lack of equity in quality Out-of-School programs for low-income spans the country. In Virginia, only nine percent of students participate in after-school programs. The NextUp nonprofit provides a free program for students enrolled in Richmond Public Schools in which they participate in activities of their choice at least twice a week. Students receive dinner, snacks, and transportation to their chosen activity.   

In Boston, Boston After School & Beyond forges partnerships between providers, philanthropy, business, higher education, city government, and the public schools to expand student learning beyond the school day. Partners with Boston After School & Beyond can focus on specialized areas: Social-Emotional Learning, STEM, and the Teen Expanded Education Network. In the past two years, at least 99 programs have participated in Boston After School & Beyond to focus on the needs of students around Boston. 

Through Every Hour Counts, a coalition of citywide organizations expand access to meaningful learning opportunities for underserved students. Every Hour Counts maintains partnerships with more than 3,500 schools, districts, and community based-organizations that reach more than 500,000 each year. Through their expanded-learning system, a cohesive team emerges to address the most acute needs of students. The team includes public agencies, service providers, businesses, funders, and schools that aim to connect students to school, build their self-confidence, develop critical-thinking skills, and forge relationships with trusted adults. 

All of our students deserve the opportunity to cultivate a profound passion that will strengthen their identity and expand their aspirations. All of our students deserve for the community to support and elevate their educational experiences. All of our students deserve the chance to flourish, thrive, and succeed within and beyond the classroom.     

More to do. More to come.

Ana Cunningham
Director of Projects, SchermCo

To learn more about SchermCo or inquire about our services, please email Ana Cunningham, ana@scherm.co. Lastly, follow our journey and engage with us on our social media platforms: FB, IG, and Twitter.

SchermCo is a social-impact implementation firm that offers strategic advising, organizational development, and implementation services to schools and education-focused organizations. SchermCo reinvests 1% of their time/funds from each project back into the communities they serve.