After-school advocates and providers agree that the expansion of high-quality programs touts a slew of academic, behavioral, and social-emotional benefits for many students whom they say are still grappling with lingering negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The push has also spurred innovation within the field driven by youth needs and interests, as demonstrated by two long-time after-school programs based in the Midwest, the Downtown Boxing Gym in Detroit and After School Matters in Chicago.

While advocates welcome the national initiative’s goals to boost after-school options, they say challenges remain regarding programming accessibility and sustainability due to barriers that include limited funding and staff shortages.

Last July, more than two years into a pandemic that roiled school districts across the country, the U.S. Department of Education launched the Engage Every Student Initiative. Multiple partner organizations, including Afterschool Alliance, the School Superintendents Organization and the National League of Cities, provide connections and assistance to communities wishing to expand access to after-school and summer learning offerings, per the initiative’s website.

One of its aims is to encourage states and school districts to invest some of the billions of dollars set aside in the American Rescue Plan legislation for learning recovery efforts into after-school offerings such as subject-based tutoring. But the initiative also encourages school districts to partner with community and faith-based organizations to design programs that support and develop students in a more holistic sense, says Jodi Grant, the executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Afterschool Alliance.

“While after-school programs have academic support, there's also all of these other things that are happening, whether it's workforce skills, it's participating in sports and theater. It's an opportunity to have healthy relationships with peers and caring adults and mentors. And so much of that was lost during the pandemic, as well as the academic piece,” Grant says. “Engage Every Student is really trying to shine a light on where this is happening well, and to encourage more local school districts to use their money to create or expand partnerships, so that we can serve more kids.”

Read the full article about after-school programs by Eleanore Catolico at EdSurge.