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Webinar Recap: How summer programs are changing the game for youth

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Webinar Recap: How summer programs are changing the game for youth

With the summer months fast approaching, programs are ready to open their doors after a year in lockdown and families are eager to get their children outside, building connections with friends and peers, and learning in a safe and fun space. This year especially, programs are playing a critical role in helping kids recover and rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic. On May 19, The Afterschool Alliance’s Jodi Grant hosted a virtual briefing for the America After 3PM special summer report Time for a Game-Changing Summer, With Opportunity and Growth for All of America's Youth along with experts in the field: Gigi Antoni, The Wallace Foundation; Jennifer McCombs, Rand; Sergio Garcia, Big Thought, Dallas, Texas; Teresa Dothard-Campbell, Lights ON for Learning, Glenview Middle School, East Moline, Illinois. 

Jodi Grant began the briefing by welcoming guests and outlining the purpose and methodology of the summer report, including a special thanks to the Wallace Foundation for supporting this work. She then began to outline the five key takeaways from the summer report.

Gigi Antoni, Director of Learning and Enrichment at The Wallace Foundation, highlighted the funds from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) reaching afterschool and summer learning programs and described this summer as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to advance important elements of our education system.” Programs are able to utilize ARP funds to implement programming that focuses on the recovery of students and learning, as well as implement social and emotional curricula that help students rebound from the pandemic. With the new America After 3PM research strengthening the evidence base and reinforcing the importance of summer learning for all kids, Gigi called leaders in the field to action: as the data shows strong inequities in access to summer learning programs in historically underserved communities, education leaders and state networks must understand and address the parameters of equitable participation in summer learning. 

Jennifer McCombs, Senior Policy Researcher at RAND spoke about the importance of summer programs in promoting positive outcomes for youth. Summer programs are a lifeline for young people, offering opportunities to build connections, meet social and emotional needs, reinforce in-school learning, and connect students with employment and mentorship.. Jennifer highlighted that although programs are beneficial as whole, the factors that make a program effective in promoting positive outcomes include strong early planning, high quality instruction, positive site climate, and high levels of student attendance. Jennifer concluded, “We know a lot about how to design [programs] to be effective. Now we need to collectively work to expand access and support the development of quality programming for children.”

Sergio Garcia, Senior Manager of Learning Systems at Big Thought in Dallas, Texas, dove into how his city is taking a community approach to summer learning. Sergio oversees the Dallas City of Learning Initiative, which aims to provide quality enrichment and summer programs to youth by convening partners and networks within the community to create a “learning ecosystem.” Through these ecosystems, resources are leveraged and partnerships are formed between youth-serving organizations and community partners to bring the highest quality programs to all students, especially those young people from communities experiencing housing and food insecurity or program deserts. Throughout the pandemic, Sergio noted that the Dallas ecosystem focused on fostering positive relationships with partners and choosing organizations that represent and uplift their body of students. Students that are well-represented and exposed to an emotionally cognizant environment are likely to feel safe in their surroundings and see positive outcomes from their experiences. “We’re trying to develop and change the landscape of what summer learning and what out-of-school time can be,” Sergio affirmed, “Big Thought was really being mindful... about providing these professional learning opportunities for these organizations to be able to supply high quality learning experiences.” 

Teresa Dothard-Campbell, Nita M. Lowey 21st CCLC Site Coordinator at Lights ON for Learning at Glenview Middle School and proud Afterschool Alliance Ambassador, shared how COVID-19 has impacted her students and what her plans are for summer 2021. Like many programs throughout the pandemic, Teresa’s program offered both virtual and in-person options and even extended hours in the evening and the weekend to accommodate families. With the pandemic creating anxiety for families and students, Teresa narrowed her question—“How can WE help families?” Teresa identified stressors for families and how they wanted summer to look after a year of lost instructional time. “Afterschool programming and summer school programming are very important in order for the whole child to not only receive the academic help that they need, but it is so important for them to just be able to socialize with other students and then for them to... learn a new hobby or to have a discovery.” With the summer ahead, Teresa is expanding program reach in the community by offering spots to local students and encouraging youth to unplug. 

The briefing concluded with a Q&A as panelists addressed questions regarding the impact of programs on learning recovery, barriers for program operation this summer, and how the American Rescue Plan funds can revitalize programs affected by the pandemic.

The full report briefing is available on Youtube. To read the full report and access your state’s summer data breakdown, head to the America After 3PM dashboard.

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