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Supporting our Youth throughout COVID-19 and Beyond: Hill Briefing recap

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Supporting our Youth throughout COVID-19 and Beyond: Hill Briefing recap

On September 23, the Afterschool Alliance hosted a virtual Hill briefing, Supporting our Youth throughout COVID-19 and Beyond: Why Afterschool Providers are More Essential than Ever, that focused on the important role afterschool providers play during these unprecedented times. The brief featured panelists from three different fields—education, health, and business—to discuss how these partnerships help programs in continuing to support youth and their families. The briefing was held in partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America in coordination with the House Afterschool Caucus.

Julie Teer, Chief Development and Public Affairs Officer at the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, opened the brief and introduced Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey, a champion of afterschool who has continuously fought to increase funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC), the only federal funding source dedicated exclusively to support local before school, afterschool, and summer learning programs. In honor of her dedication to the cause, the program was recently renamed the Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

Congresswoman Lowey emphasized the importance of afterschool, especially now more than ever.

She said, “It’s no secret that what children do out of school can have as great an impact as what they do in school. That understanding has taken on a whole new meaning in the face of COVID-19.”

She highlighted that afterschool providers have risen during the pandemic to meet the needs of youth and their families, providing meals, staying open for essential workers, and transitioning almost overnight to provide online distance learning to youth.

Our own Jodi Grant served as the facilitator of the briefing. She echoed the sentiments made by Congresswoman Lowey— we need afterschool programs now more than ever. Jodi illustrated the work that 21st CCLC programs have done, both before and during COVID-19. Before COVID-19, 21st CCLC programs served 1.7 million youth in 10,249 school based and community centers throughout the country, helping students improve academically and behaviorally, and foster key social and emotional skills. During COVID-19, 21st CCLC programs continued to serve their communities, through staying connected to youth, serving or delivering meals, and connecting families with community resources.

Dr. Flint Fowler, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis, spoke about the Clubs’ response to the pandemic, noting that they immediately focused on preparing to safely host kids on site as the parents they serve were desperate for safe places to send their children while they were at work. At the Club, they knew they had a responsibility to continue to serve youth. Throughout the summer they hosted day camps, stayed connected to youth online, and made weekly wellness calls to families. Because of the CARES Act financial support, they were able to retain 100% of their staff and continue to serve students throughout the entirety of the pandemic. Safety has been central to their programming from the beginning, and every staff member has gone through extensive training and utilizes their Safe Club Playbook.

Dr. Crystal Gale, network superintendent at the St. Louis Public Schools, highlighted the positive impact of partnering with the Boys and Girls Club, and the benefits the Club has provided for her students. This has continued to be true during COVID-19. With schools shut down in St. Louis and high school students left out of the instructional support centers set up by the district, the Boys and Girls Club played an essential role in supporting their students, providing a safe space to learn, and enabling access the technology needed to complete their schoolwork.

“The students in our communities need the club… for our students, the clubs are a place where kids go because people believe in them,” Dr. Gale said. “They are specifically designed for them with engaging activities, developed to help them discover their own potential and be great. Who wouldn’t want to go to a place like that?”

DavidShore, senior scientist at Environmental Health & Engineering, Inc., contributed the health and safety perspective, discussing how programs can operate safely using Nonpharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs). A layered approach that ranges from programs being cancelled to individuals wearing face coverings, NPIs can significantly reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading to students and staff members. He emphasized that NPIs are truly a partnership of all stakeholders. It needs to start before kids enter the program, and continue when kids and staff members go home at the end of the day, or else there is risk of bringing something into the program. Mr. Shore highlighted that one of the most critical components is following the cohort strategy and keeping groups small to allow for contact tracing. In addition, measures such as moving programs outdoors, limiting contact activities, and avoiding self-serve food options will also help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Overall, Mr. Shore emphasized that NPIs work and by following the guidelines set forth in the ACA Field Guide for 2020 Summer Camps and the EH&E Field Guide, programs can safely serve students.

Casey Cortese, managing director at Schwab Community Services and the Charles Schwab Foundation, highlighted their work with the Boys and Girls Club and the critical role that out of school time programs play in supporting businesses. She noted that afterschool programs offer a unique environment to develop workforce skills such as critical thinking, communication and collaboration, and are absolutely necessary to continue to ensure that we have a skilled workforce. During COVID-19 and with families’ changing work lives, afterschool programs are important now more than ever. Parents need places to send their kids while they are at work, and students need to develop skills that they are unable to while participating solely in online learning. Casey notes that this work cannot be done alone.  

“It is going to take strong collaboration between community organizations, government, and private industry to prepare young people for robust and vibrant careers,” she said. “We must unify in our vision and with our active support to create equity of opportunity for all of America’s children.”

Jodi Grant left some final remarks, emphasizing once more the importance of afterschool and asking for a one-time $1.35 billion increase in 21st CCLC.

“Right now in order to serve kids the way we’re serving them all day long, programs are doing this at a great expense. They need more staff, they need more time, they need more training, they need more PPE, and often they need more space.” Jodi continued that a one-time increase “will go a long way in helping us meet the needs of the kids.”

A brief Q&A session concluded the briefing, with all the panelists providing insights on what policy makers can do right now to help meet student and community needs.

The full briefing can be viewed here.

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Afterschool policy 2019: State legislative round up

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