Quality afterschool programs needed in rural communities across America
For the Steamboat Pilot & Today
Editor’s note: This content is sponsored by YouthPower365.
There’s a problem facing children in rural communities: a lack of adequate afterschool and summer programming.
Research shows that quality afterschool programs can improve students’ reading and math grades, classroom behavior, attendance, academic aspirations, dietary habits, physical activity and reduce the risks of dropping out of school or using drugs, according to the federal Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs.
Quality summer programs can reduce the risk of summer learning loss — also known as the summer slide — in which children start the academic year at achievement levels lower than where they were at the beginning of summer break, according to the Brookings Institution, which has studied the phenomenon.
Each year, more than 1,700 students in the Yampa Valley participate in life-enriching after-school activities at the Boys and Girls Clubs in Craig and Steamboat Springs, thanks to community support. The cost to families is $25 per year. Steamboat Springs also has afterschool and summer programs offered through the city’s parks and recreation department and other local nonprofits.
Celina Taylor, Director of Development at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Northwest Colorado, said the programs teach kids how to be successful in anything they want to pursue academically, as well as teach them how to be good people and good contributors to society.
Rural communities don’t always have access to tax dollars for such programming, though — and even when they do, the dollars tend to fall short. That’s why the nonprofit Vail Valley Foundation is hoping to highlight creative ways that government and nonprofit organizations can partner with school districts at its upcoming conference in Beaver Creek, Colorado: The PwrHrs Extended Learning Conference, November 13th-15th, 2019.
“In rural communities like ours, programs like PwrHrs offer support services by extending the school day for working families, providing transportation home from programs, and providing daytime food security to all students,” said Melisa Rewold-Thuon, vice president of education at the Vail Valley Foundation. “This has both an economic impact and a social-emotional one. For little or no cost, families know that children are in a supportive, learning, quality environment, stay within their home school and neighborhood, and safely arrive home each day.”
YouthPower365 is the educational non-profit of the Vail Valley Foundation, and serves nearly 4,400 children annually in all 19 public schools in Eagle County, Colorado. The county is well-known for its local ski areas, but the majority of its population live in rural areas, and more than 40 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
YouthPower365 was formed in 2012 as an affiliation of the Youth Foundation and existing education programming of the Vail Valley Foundation. The organization has been effectively supporting local families and youth through programming that includes early childhood initiatives, afterschool and summer programs for K-12, and college-and-career readiness for middle and high school students.
YouthPower365’s leadership recognized that while their programs were successful, there was a need for greater collaboration with other communities. Much of what’s worked in Eagle County can work elsewhere, Rewold-Thuon said, including the PwrHrs model for building partnerships between public schools and private funding.
“We have always tried to work with schools to utilize resources they already have in place for both the academic and enrichment components of our programs,” she said.
From the school district’s perspective, the programs are an important extension of childhood development and education.
Afterschool Alliance, a national organization that advocates for robust afterschool programming, conducted a study about rural access to afterschool programming in 2016. The study found that the top challenge is securing enough funding to run and sustain these programs.
“The potential partnerships that can be formed between programs and the business and philanthropic communities are many, just as the range of supports afterschool programs provide and areas of focus are wide-ranging,” according to the study. “As rural communities struggle with food insecurity, poverty, and lack of resources, it is evident that families in rural communities are in need of additional supports that can help them thrive.”
Current YouthPower365 research, in partnership with Colorado State University, is looking at the PwrHrs kids’ social-emotional and academic performance during the regular school year. The research suggests that policymakers should consider the following when designing this type of programming:
Center the program around evidence-based curriculum.
In addition to academic content, include hands-on or recreational activities.
Ensure that program structure enables sufficient time on task, with policies or incentives that encourage consistent attendance.
Invest in hiring the most effective teachers.
Successful programs offer wide-ranging curriculum topics, from sports to robotics to coding to academics. Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant said kids in rural areas may not have a sense for the opportunities out there, and these types of programs can help them find a path that’s right for them.
“Every program tends to be unique, based on the community and its resources,” she said. “Kids need a place to feel safe, where they belong, and where they can build positive relationships with kids and positive adults.”
Organizations like YouthPower365 can help public schools determine how to best tap into private funding, while at the same time helping earn grants from regional and federal governments. Education experts on staff can help develop engaging curriculums, all of which help young people and families find a brighter future, while at the same time increasing teacher pay. This last aspect – teacher pay – is a very beneficial biproduct of YouthPower365 programming, and can be a boon to rural communities where teacher recruitment and pay lag behind urban areas.
All of the above are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to improving local education initiatives via models like YouthPower365. The positive impacts of such programs have a cascading effect, raising quality of life for everyone by ensuring that afterschool and summer programming is keeping kids on the right track now and into the future. In November, communities with – and without – such programs will share expertise and knowledge at the PwrHrs Extended Learning Conference, helping foster the development of breakthrough ideas for funding and programming.
The end result could have a profound ripple effect: helping ensure that all kids across America have access to education and developmental opportunities that put them on the path toward a bright future.
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