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Personal experience and research share the stage at Congressional afterschool briefing

By Erik Peterson

On May 22—in conjunction with the 13th annual Afterschool for All Challenge—the Senate Afterschool Caucus, the Afterschool Alliance and the Expanded Learning Project joined forces to host a Capitol Hill briefing featuring compelling stories and encouraging research that point to the success and potential of afterschool and summer learning programs. 

Dr. Deborah Lowe Vandell, founding dean of the University of California-Irvine School of Education, shared new data that shows how quality afterschool programs can help close the achievement gap. She emphasized findings that show afterschool programs are particularly effective at improving achievement and positive behavior among low-income students. She noted that afterschool researchers and advocates have data that show that the long-term outcomes associated with afterschool participation are positive and compelling and should move the discussion about the benefits of afterschool beyond the safety and good behaviors conversations.  In addition, Vandell stated that in recent years the research tools and findings have facilitated the incorporation of measures of intensity, duration and quality. 

Karen West, director of Redhound Enrichment and out-of-school-time programs at Corbin Independent Schools in Corbin, Ky., shared the particular challenges she and her colleagues face as they try to provide services to a rural and poverty-stricken area.  She noted that out-of-school-time opportunities and programs are key to fostering success among school-aged children in Corbin and that the 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) program is crucial to the community.  The funds invested in the program are leveraged by partnerships and other investments from community business and it was noted by her and her fellow participants that the 21st CCLC program hasn’t seen any funding increases in more than 10 years, meaning many communities and young people who want afterschool programs go unserved. 

While West’s comments were compelling, the star of the briefing came from a Washington, D.C., middle school not far from Capitol Hill. Sixth-grader Josiah Lynch, who goes to Stuart-Hobson Middle School, told his rapt audience about the program that has captured his interest and exposed him to varied learning and enrichment experiences.  He spoke of his plans to graduate high school, go to Stanford University and become a doctor.  He and his parents were applauded by the audience loudly, and Josiah said that he was certain that programs like his would benefit many other young people in Washington, D.C., and across the country.