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Supporting student success afterschool and during the summer with 21st CCLC

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Supporting student success afterschool and during the summer with 21st CCLC

On April 30, the Senate Afterschool Caucus, along with the Afterschool Alliance convened a briefing for Congressional staff highlighting recent research and program level experiences concerning the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) initiative. Education staffers from the House and Senate along with representatives from national and local organizations heard how local afterschool and summer learning programs supported in part by federal Community Learning Centers funds provide young people with educational and engaging experiences to help them succeed in school and in life.

The briefing, hosted by Senate Afterschool Caucus co-chairs Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.), was moderated by Jennifer Rinehart of the Afterschool Alliance and featured a welcome by Karen McCarthy of Sen. Murkowski’s office and a noteworthy panel:

  • Christina Russell, managing director of Policy Studies Associates based in Washington, D.C.
  • Gerard Robinson, executive director of the Center for Advancing Opportunity at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund in Washington, D.C.
  • Dr. Tara Bishop, assistant superintendent of Perry Central Community Schools in Leopold, Ind.

The panelists presented the strong evidence base for afterschool programs, especially 21st Century Community Learning Centers, highlighting the role of afterschool and summer learning programs in

  • Supporting academic success
  • Developing workforce skills – both foundational, social emotional learning skills and more technical skills
  • Providing nutritional support through afterschool and summer meals and snacks
  • Combatting chronic absenteeism through student engagement and hands on activities
  • Preventing risky behaviors among young people, including substance misuse, with afterschool programs helping young people build protective factors.

Christina Russell, who has evaluated and studied afterschool programs for almost 20 years with Policy Studies Associates, provided a comprehensive summary of program outcomes. Research shows afterschool and summer learning programs have the capacity to affect lots of different outcomes for students, depending on what the intent and design of that program is, and to respond to local needs.

Programs are working to support schools and work with principals and leadership to determine where they add value, and Russell highlighted how Community Learning Centers programs engage parents in different ways, including as a broker to help families to be more engaged in their students’ learning. Afterschool has evolved over time from a place focused on keeping young people safe to essential programs that contribute to student success.

Gerard Robinson spoke to his long history with afterschool starting as an educator two decades ago. Robinson first saw the impact of afterschool as a 5th grade school teacher in Los Angeles, Calif., in the early 1990s and witnessed the impact on students. For two years he later worked as an instructor at an afterschool program in Jersey City, recognizing that students in his program passed required graduation exams at a higher rate than their peers.

As a Secretary of Education in Virginia and Commissioner of Education in Florida he oversaw afterschool funding distributed to school districts, realizing the difference it made in the ability for local education agencies to design their own programs and leverage local support. Finally, as a principal investigator on a research project, he interviewed parents of afterschool students to assess attitudes towards and effects of afterschool participation and is now revisiting that research with a new study underway that is looking at how families are supported by afterschool programs.

Dr. Tara Bishop of Perry Central Community Schools spoke from a school administrator perspective at a rural district that utilizes Community Learning Centers. Dr. Bishop shared the history of afterschool at Perry Central, serving a very rural part of Indiana whose schools and afterschool program are among the only gathering places for the community. Programming goes beyond traditional K-12 experiences with afterschool expanding opportunities for young people in ways that cannot always be accomplished during the school day.

Afterschool programming in Perry Central Community Schools started in 2000 and the district has maintained programming since then with a variety of funding sources including Community Learning Centers for part of the time. Programming occurs every day from 3 to 6 p.m., with bus transportation dropping students off at locations across the county. Programs include tutoring, skills based learning, gymnastics, robotics, and cultural experiences that open up worlds and possibilities for students. The programs also provides snacks and meals. Additionally, the Community Learning Centers in Perry Central has been responding to the opioid crisis with a focus on social and emotional learning and equipping young people with protective factors to help them avoid the risks and better handle the challenges that are confronting students in the district.

Workforce readiness has been another focus on the programs. Leopold, Ind., and surrounding towns are largely manufacturing communities and the afterschool programs partner with local workforce to focus on the skills young people will need to secure jobs. The district has an onsite manufacturing facility and a summer apprenticeships program. 

The briefing wrapped up with a discussion about the ways in which 21st Century Community Learning Centers has evolved over the years, with panelists pointing to the increasing sophistication of the field, greater emphasis on STEM learning opportunities for young people, increased focus on quality and tools/resources to support high-quality programming, greater recognition of the importance of social and emotional learning and the long history of youth development in providing SEL opportunities, and the growing evidence base that shows how afterschool is making a difference for young people, families and communities.

Just after the briefing concluded on the Senate side of the Capitol, on the House side the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee marked up their FY20 spending bill, including a $100 million increase to Community Learning Centers. Learn more about the research evidence supporting 21st Century Community Learning Centers as well as the program itself

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