Afterschool programs can help your child succeed — and schools are beginning to notice

Photo above courtesy of Remake Learning and the Tomorrow campaign.

Last June, as classes were ending at Duquesne City School District, teachers and parents knew one thing: The summer was going to matter. After a frequently locked down school year, there was nothing these kids needed more than two solid months of outdoor exercise, safe social interaction and enriching summer programming.

The annual “summer slide” was more of a threat than ever, and so was the grinding effect of COVID anxiety. These students needed to spend their days with adults they knew and trusted, having fun and remembering what it’s like to be carefree.

The perfect solution? Summer camp at the Boys & Girls Club in their community.

But there was a problem. How would many of the kids get there? Most parents were busy working hard just to keep the bills paid. Even if they had a car, the adults weren’t home to shuttle kids back and forth. It’s a problem that plays out in communities throughout the Pittsburgh region.

“We have very highly qualified staff that offer literacy, STEM, arts, social-emotional support, mentoring, sports and recreation,” says Dr. Lisa Abel-Palmieri, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania. But “we can’t get kids to the building.”

This time, though, transportation didn’t have to be a roadblock. A simple collaboration—one built on the highly successful work of Pittsburgh’s Learning Hubs—solved the problem.

Rather than scramble to build and run their own summer program, Duquesne City School District partnered with the Boys & Girls Club to pay for transportation so kids could attend summer camp.

Instead of reinventing something that was already working in their community, they stepped out of their silo and tapped into the learning ecosystem. This approach remains fairly uncommon. But what if school districts and out-of-school-time (OST) providers continued developing and growing these kinds of partnerships in the months and years to come?

Building on Pandemic Connections

The Learning Hubs brought schools and OST providers together out of necessity. They kept learning going for hundreds of kids during the early days of the pandemic and also did something more, says Stephanie Lewis, director of relationships at Remake Learning.

The Hubs helped “reveal the value of out-of-school-time programs. They showed that, yes, they are a place where kids are kept safe after hours. But also kids are learning there, whether it’s formal instruction or informal instruction,” Lewis says. “School districts also are recognizing that the staff and leaders at the out-of-school-time programs have really good connections with the families that they serve.”

For many kids, “OST providers are like their second family,” Abel-Palmieri says. “We have single moms and parents that rely on us to feed their kids dinner every night. We help them do their homework. We help them be emotionally healthy and physically healthy.”

As schools grapple with the challenge of supporting kids’ mental health needs and really connecting with families, this is a perfect moment to partner with organizations that already have those relationships.

Powerful Ways Forward

Last spring, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit hosted an event where OST providers could pitch their services to local school districts. The summer camp collaboration between the Boys & Girls Clubs and Duquesne City Schools grew out of that event and the small grant funding the AIU was offering.

So we wonder: What if school boards and others who make school funding decisions knew more about the value of OST programming? 

New data from the nonprofit Learning Heroes and its research partner Edge Research found that parents enroll their children in OST programs to expose them to new experiences, ideas, and perspectives, and to help them find their passions, purpose, and voice. And it works: Parents whose children are enrolled in OST programs say their kids do better academically and are more prepared for the next school year and for college.

But despite the many benefits, these programs remain out of reach for some parents — often due to cost, time and transportation issues, according to the Learning Heroes research.

That’s where COVID relief funding and other dollars from school budgets could play a vital role.

Research done here in Pennsylvania also confirms the value of OST partnerships. The “Return on Investment of Afterschool Programs” report by a joint government commission found that regular attendance at OST programs correlated with better academic outcomes and strong social-emotional skills. The report, published in June, also found that participating in OST programs can lead to a decrease in negative behaviors including juvenile justice problems, substance abuse and skipping school.

The message is clear: Participating in good after-school programming ripples out in positive ways throughout the K-12 school day.

This research echoes findings from two statewide panels on post-pandemic learning convened by Remake Learning. The experts on those panels offered recommendations that included this mandate: “Make impactful connections among districts, teachers, out-of-school educators, and families.”

In response, Remake Learning will work in the months to come with Timothy D. Jones, an educator and youth development specialist working at the intersections of hip-hop pedagogy, youth development and artistic empowerment. Jones will lead a series of workshops and critical conversations this fall with school and OST partners who collaborated over the summer. Mini-grants of $2,500 will be available to those partners to deepen their relationship this fall.

That funding can be used to host events or create resources that will help both partnering organizations.

Formalizing Connections

One roadblock to collaboration is finding time to plan out new partnerships. School leaders and OST providers are all incredibly busy.

What if each school district had a Director of Relationships leading a team that focused on this work? 

Slowly, fruitful collaborations between K-12 schools and OST providers are growing. With creative approaches and a commitment to forging truly connected learning for all kids, the new school year can bring even more progress.

“The onus is honestly on all of us,” says Abel-Palmieri, “to continue to break down silos and come together.”


This article is part of a series for “Tomorrow” powered by Remake Learning. “Tomorrow” is exploring – through virtual events, grantmaking, and storytelling – what we can do today to make tomorrow a more promising place for all learners. Follow along or share your hopes for today’s young people using the hashtag #RemakeTomorrow and tagging @RemakeLearning. Learn more about Remake Learning here. And read more “Tomorrow” articles published on Kidsburgh.