4 ways after-school can aid K-12’s COVID recovery

Technological enhancements made during COVID open doors to the potential of after-school programs
By: | June 29, 2021

It’s no surprise that after-school programs will play a significant role as educators help students reacclimate post-COVID.

ESSER and American Plan funds are available for after-school programs, and would best be targeted toward activities that function as an extension of the school day. Curricula should be aligned to what’s being taught in classrooms, says Dawn Bridges, senior director of education partnerships for Right at School, a company that runs after-school programs for districts. “It’s really important for superintendents to strategically think about the experience they want students to have, and recognize the key role of before- and after-school,” Bridges says. “When districts create strategic plans, they have to think outside the box of 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.”

“We’re going to have a lot more opportunity nationwide to do a lot of great things for kids because money is targeted to the after-school space in a way that’s never happened before,” adds Justin Slagle, after-school program manager at Del Mar Union School District near San Diego.

Here, Bridges and Slagle share some ideas about how to position after-school programs to support recovery as the prospect of a more traditional school year approaches:

1. ‘Joy and engagement.’ Right at School is seeing growing interest from parents who may not need child care but, starting this summer, simply want a place where their children can resume socializing with friends and classmates, according to Bridges. “One superintendent asked us for joy and engagement between now and September,” she says.

In aligning with classroom instruction, Right at Schools focuses on the concepts of “disguised learning” by allowing students’ interests and passions to drive hands-on projects. Students can also develop leadership skills and become “junior educators” who get to help run group meetings.

2. Social-emotional support. All students are greeted when they arrive at Right at School’s programs. Experts across the education spectrum have emphasized how important it will be for teachers and other adults at school to build relationships with students in the coming months.

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The greetings are followed by a short “town hall”-style meeting with the entire group to build community. Right at School’s programs also include movement and fitness sessions, Bridges said.

Finally, Right at School staff have been trained by YWCA counselors in trauma-informed care to prepare for programs and schools to reopen.

3. After-school renaissance. Technological enhancements made during COVID have opened the doors for the potential of after-school programs, Slagle says. “This last year was a case study for how we can bring more diverse and in-depth enrichment opportunities to more rural areas,” he says. “As long as you have internet service, you can get high-quality vendors teaching things like robotics.”

In this way, after-school programs can play a key role in helping students recover from the disruptions of COVID, he adds. “Our teams can teach Common Core math and Next Generation Science Standards after school to reinforce but holistically, we get to really focus on the social-emotional side of things.”

4. Logistics and efficiency. Managing liability, vendors, background checks and student registration can sometimes pose insurmountable hurdles to districts attempting to establish robust after-school programs. This is where software can help, Slagle says.

Slagle’s adoption of the 6crickets automation platform has drastically reduced the amount of time his staff has to spend on administrative tasks. The software is also allowing Slagle to shift programs online—including a version of soccer—early in the pandemic. Administrators should consider spending ESSER funds on these types of platforms that cover logistics, he suggests, noting, “Money like this enables districts to find partners to help them navigate a space they may be unfamiliar with.”