What superintendents need to know about 3 after-school program challenges

About one in four after-school programs are still not operating at the capacity they were prior to COVID.

Problems of access may be impeding the role of after-school programs in many K12 leaders’ visions for extended learning and academic recovery.

Almost all after-school programs are again open after the turbulence of the last few years and report that they are offering students academic support, opportunities to connect with peers, and space to build foundational skills, such as communication and critical thinking. But about one in four after-school providers is still not operating at the capacity it was prior to COVID, according to a status report by the nonprofit Afterschool Alliance.

The good news is those numbers show an improvement from fall 2021 when nearly half of after-school programs were running at reduced capacity. “More work remains to be done before declaring a rebound from the pandemic,” wrote the report’s authors, who also pointed to increased K12 absenteeism among students and teachers and continuing increases in homeschooling.

Superintendents should know that after-school programs are facing many of the same challenges that continue to impede the K12 system’s attempts to recover, the report states.

1. Recruiting and retaining staff: After-school operators are now more concerned about having sufficient staff than they were even in the summer of 2020. Among the issues are soaring demand from students and families and a big shift in demand from recreational activities to academic support. More students with special needs are also seeking after-school alternatives.

But after-school staff are not necessarily trained to provide academic or special education services. “My staff members are part-time staff and full-time college students,” a provider from Texas said in the report. “Adding the additional stress and pressure to resemble teachers in the afterschool programs is asking a lot from them.”

2. Cost increases are preventing capacity increases: More than 50% of after-school providers reported that they are now charging students and families more and most cited having to pay higher salaries as the biggest reason. The rising cost of supplies, food and transportation are also causing strains and in some cases, doubts about whether some after-school programs will remain open. More than three-quarters of providers are now concerned about their long-term funding and future sustainability.

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“We have done our best to not increase the cost of tuition; however, in the future, a larger increase will need to happen,” a Washington after-school provider told the report’s authors. “The inflation that has occurred to increase overhead costs as a whole has been major.”

3. The demand conundrum: A majority of providers are putting families on waiting lists but a quarter reported that they have been unable to fill all of their available slots, with some saying the pandemic has made recruiting students more difficult. Still, many providers believe a decreasing number of families are concerned about the safety of after-school programs.

Investing in after-school programs

In response, and along with raising salaries, some after-school programs are providing signing bonuses and offering more professional development opportunities to staff. One of the hurdles to these solutions has, not surprisingly, been financial as only about one in five providers reported having access to COVID relief funding.

After-school programs do enjoy the support of the public, with more than three in four voters urging local governments and school districts to invest some of their own COVID funds in after-school and summer learning activities, the report concluded. “We have increased resources in parent and family engagement, meals, mental health resources, and academic support,” an Oklahoma afterschool program provider noted in the report. “Without our program funding sources, our community and our families would be much worse off.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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