Many American parents face the challenge of finding affordable childcare beyond school hours.1 It’s estimated that 18.5 million children need supervision after school because of parents working full time. Of those, 8.4 million are enrolled in afterschool care programs, which leaves a whopping 15 million kids alone and unsupervised after school hours.2
The situation is under advisement. Learning benefits of some afterschool care programs have been questioned by current U.S. administrators, influencing their plans for next year’s federal budget3 and underscoring the fact that there is room for improvement in this space.
Recognizing a Strong Program
Summer is a good time for schools to reflect on the quality of their afterschool programs. How well do your vision and program align not just with industry goals and benchmarks, but with the drumbeat of those seeking to transform and solve a national issue?
To start, Great Schools recommends these criteria4:
- Clear goals and a program designed to meet those goals
- Space, staff, and resources to offer structured activities
- A schedule that allows students time to learn and practice skills — art, sports, etc.
- Homework help
- Staff who relate well to students, manage groups well, maintain high expectations, and keep students motivated
- Flexible attendance schedules and reasonable cost
- Established communication channels with parents and school staff
As it happens, these quality indicators line up with the goals and achievements of several professionals honored recently by the National Afterschool Association. They shared their views about what influences effectiveness in the afterschool care field.5
Increasing quality programs and professional development opportunities
Afterschool professionals are the foundation of program quality, which is fundamental to positive outcomes in youth, says Melissa Fenton, Extension Educator, Click2SciencePD, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Melissa’s program provides free professional development resources in STEM. “I hope to help afterschool educators see themselves as professionals and recognize their value in this important work that greatly impacts the young people in this country,” she says. “I want to ensure that the afterschool workforce has access to quality professional development opportunities and support in gaining knowledge and skills to improve their practice.”
Andrew Fletcher was in college when he joined the 21st Century Community Learning Center, coordinating homework help, tutoring, college visits, and enrichment activities at an alternative high school. “I spent sleepless nights wondering how I could better engage and connect with youth,” Andrew says. “I spent countless hours watching ridiculous, popular TV shows and YouTube videos. I kept up with pop culture and slang. I researched best practices. I participated in state and national conferences to learn what great things others were doing.”
After he advanced to program director and 21st CCLC state coordinator, Andrew’s mission became clear, he says. “I hope to keep people energized, engaged, and excited about the endless possibilities, and to continue advancing the field by providing quality professional development and coaching to front-line staff. By professionalizing the field, we continue to show the world afterschool is more than three hours after the bell rings. Afterschool changes lives, providing social, emotional, and academic development to youth.”
Leveraging data to improve quality programming and increase impact.
With a data-driven understanding of their programs and communities, afterschool can become more intentional and strategic, says Bri Gastion-Bell, Program Quality Manager, Indiana Afterschool Network in Indianapolis. “I hope my impact is as simple as encouraging a positive outlook and appreciation for how data can inform and shape efforts for better afterschool experiences for the youth we serve.”
Serving children and families with learning opportunities, in addition to affordable care and a safe environment.
Today’s leading afterschool care educators and professionals strive to provide an environment that is more than just childcare. While they want to give parents the peace of mind that their children are safe and secure, afterschool leaders also prioritize extended learning opportunities. “My goal is to provide high-quality, affordable, and diverse afterschool care for our students, featuring an array of age-appropriate program options that reflect children’s interests,” says John Li, Special Programs Coordinator and Site Director, East Point Academy, West Columbia, South Carolina. “Perhaps most importantly, our program will be an enriching experience, culturally, academically and socially, for all participating children.”
“Afterschool programs allow youth to flourish beyond the school bell, give families a haven for their children, and create a safe community,” adds Lasheena Williams, MNM, Family Services Program Manager, Orange County Government in Orlando. “Students’ minds are opened to peer and community needs, rather than allowing empty time where they may experiment with risky activities.”
Reminding children that they are loved and valued.
Children come to afterschool care with myriad needs, and Kenya George, Community School Director, University Settlement Society of New York, wants to break negative cycles in a child’s life and inspire greatness. “No matter what difficulties a child is experiencing, I want them to be reminded that they are loved when they leave my program. Simply put, love heals and can remind us of the power we’ve been given, but oftentimes forget we have.”
It’s easy to agree that safe and affordable care, learning opportunities, growing professionals, and a loving environment should be non-negotiables for children everywhere. Our mission is to support those efforts.
1Parents.com: Afterschool Care
2Great Schools.org: How to Find Quality After School Care
3The Atlantic: Do Afterschool Programs Positively Impact Children?
4Great Schools.org: How to Find Quality After School Care
5NAA: Next Generation of Afterschool