October is Afterschool Awareness Month, and on and around October 22, events will be held nationally for Lights On Afterschool to underscore the need for investment in afterschool programs. In DC, this need is especially heightened. More and more District families are seeking after school enrichment opportunities for their kids while at the same time, fewer public dollars are being invested in proven programs.
“These programs inspire children to learn beyond an instructional classroom setting,” says Jodi Grant, executive director of the national Afterschool Alliance. “By providing one-on-one mentoring and homework help, healthy snacks and team sports, new STEM learning opportunities such as robotics and computer programming, expanded time to learn art and music in a studio setting, and countless other hands-on opportunities, afterschool programs build upon classroom learning to promote positive youth development and motivate each child and youth toward college and job readiness.”
The Afterschool Alliance has promoted a growing body of research that shows afterschool programs and expanded learning programs keep kids safe, help working families, and encourage increased parental involvement in children’s learning. Data gathered by the Alliance have shown that for every child in an afterschool program nationally, there are two more whose parents say they would participate if a program were available. So, how does DC stack up?
DC Afterschool Investment Falls Short of Demand
The Afterschool Alliance’s survey data show that in DC, the unmet demand is greater than in any state: An estimated 72% of children in the District in grades 6 through 8 would participate in an afterschool program if one were available to them (compared to 40% nationally).
Community-based providers of afterschool programming in the District have a proven track record for tangible outcomes. Yet there is presently little political will toward expanding access in order to match the level of demand in the community. In fact, as other states and localities increasingly see funding for afterschool as a major policy goal, funding for expanded learning and enrichment programming (afterschool and during the summer) in the District (and youth development programs in general) has actually followed a downward trend in recent years.
Less funding means fewer spots in afterschool programs for the kids who need them most. Just last month, due to funding constraints, the DC Trust cut $460,000 from their out of school time grants and 24 organizations saw their funding discontinued. As a result of these cuts, as many as 1,200 expanded learning slots were lost.
In the wake of these cuts, a $1.2 million allocation to the DC Trust has been proposed to fund a series of “mini-grants” to five target neighborhoods. While the grants are well-intentioned to target funding toward neighborhoods most at-risk, the structure of the grant distribution has youth afterschool enrichment and mentoring programs competing with violence prevention and family support programs for the same pot of funding, and in a limited geographic area. Further, with each grant capped at $25,000, we remain concerned that the scope of the funding is insufficient to significantly affect outcomes.
In order to keep the lights on after school in DC, the District needs to return to having stable, multi-year funding to quality organizations. Only with the assurance of a stable funding stream will the District’s strong network of community-based providers be able to better collaborate with more schools and expand the reach of afterschool expanded learning and enrichment opportunities to the kids and families who have the greatest need.
DCAYA thanks the Afterschool Alliance for contributing to this post and for their work toward raising awareness on the need for afterschool investment. For more information on DCAYA's Expanded Learning work, please contact Joseph Gavrilovich.