After-school programs are essential to economic recovery

They’re critical in getting students back to school and parents back to work

As the Governor’s School Transition Reopening and Redesign Taskforce works to provide recommendations to Governor Sununu for the upcoming 2020-21 school year, we need to consider the reality that the school environment will be very different for everyone, including an increased reliance on after-school programs.

After-school programs are a critical component in getting students back to school, parents back to work, and New Hampshire’s economy back on track. However, extended school closures due to Covid-19 have put our after-school programs at risk of losing funding and the professionals that run them.

According to a recent National After-school Association survey of after-school programs, three in four programs are not operating as usual and another 12% expect to cease operations. Seventy-five percent of respondents are either at risk of losing staff or at risk of closing due to funding losses from Covid-19. Yet many after-school programs have stepped in where they can – 16% are providing care for children of essential workers, 78% are serving youth remotely and finding alternate ways to stay connected, and 37% are serving as a meals site or distributing other resources to families.

After-school programs are truly important to New Hampshire youth and families. Before the pandemic, 35,302 students in New Hampshire’s K-12 were enrolled in an after-school program, with almost 61,000 waiting for an available spot in a program, and more than 46,000 students finding themselves alone and unsupervised after school. Studies consistently show that children in after-school programs get excited about learning, attend school more often, get better grades, and build foundational skills like communication, teamwork and problem-solving.

After-school programs serve children of all ages throughout New Hampshire, providing academic support, mentoring, youth development, arts, sports and recreation opportunities critical to their development and often can help bridge important academic and achievement gaps. These programs generate positive outcomes for our children and our communities’ benefit when our youth have safe places, caring adults and enriching activities when parents are still at work. In fact, 84% of New Hampshire parents say after-school programs help them keep their jobs.

Upon returning to school, the New Hampshire After-school Network foresees an even greater need for after-school programs. As parents return to their places of work, or perhaps find themselves among the millions of Americans looking for work, they will need the support, security and caring environment that after-school programs provide for their children.

The gap between work and school schedules can be up to 10 to 25 hours per week, with the possibility of this gap growing based on the new health requirements in the fall. As school districts figure out what school will look like, after-school programs will be called upon to fill in gaps for one-day-on, one-day-off or staggered half-day shifts. More children will need a safe place to stay when school is not in session and more staff will be required to accommodate longer “out-of-school” hours and any CDC recommendations as to social distancing and class sizes.

Education and after-school programs need the same emergency infusion of resources and money that hospitals, airlines and other businesses have already received. If not, we risk impacting an entire generation of children.

Kimberly Meyer is project lead of the New Hampshire Afterschool Network in Bedford.

Categories: Opinion