Here’s a hard lesson I’ve learned working in the after-school field for nearly three decades: Often, it’s not until report cards come that parents discover there’s a problem.

It’s easy for parents to assume that when their children reach middle school, they no longer need the structure and supports that an after-school program can provide. Too often, the assumption is proven wrong.

Policymakers and funders support after-school programs for our youngest children because they want to ensure they are safe and supervised after the school day ends. But middle school students are often overlooked; here in Florida counties can opt out of the child care subsidy after fifth grade.

And that is a time when many children most need help to stay on-track, academically as well as socially and emotionally.

Middle school after-school programs can be the difference between success in school and dropping out. That was true before the pandemic, and it’s even more true now when so many students are stuck at home.

In my program, we help athletes understand that if their grade-point averages drop, they won’t be able to play. We help students who are interested in college understand which courses they need to complete, and we show them how to apply.

We help make learning fun for those who are flailing, using gaming and group activities that the students enjoy. For middle schoolers, once they are engaged, we give them high school course material, so they are on track academically and confident in themselves by the time they get to high school.

We need to understand that students need more — not less — support during the middle school years. Unless we provide it, we’re going to lose a lot of children who might otherwise have bright futures.

Read the full article about middle schoolers by Nicole Carter at The Hechinger Report.