It’s time to fund out-of-school time

Two lifelong educators explain the value – and urgency – of including the educational progeram in the state budget.

Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

Out-of-school time (OST) programs provide children the opportunity to reinforce their school-day learning, work on building social skills and receive attention from qualified caregivers. These programs, which give children a leg up in school, relationships and emotional growth, are critically underfunded in Pennsylvania. For every youth enrolled in an after-school program in Pennsylvania, four more kids are waitlisted. These children are missing out on opportunities for social-emotional learning, homework assistance, a safe place to go at the end of the school day – and for improving their futures.

Research shows that OST programs are clearly beneficial for participating children. The Pennsylvania Department of Education issued a report that found that children who participated in OST programs saw a 31% improvement in student reading grades and a 33% improvement in math grades from the fall to the spring. A teacher survey in the department’s report also found that regular participants in OST programs improved their homework completion by 76%, their class participation by 75%, and their classroom behavior by 64%. 

Numbers only tell part of the story, though. One of our parents recently shared the strongest testimonial to date for these programs: “I love all of the activities that the program provides for my son to do – he has gotten to try so many fun things, he’s gotten to create murals, he’s built more confidence and is speaking up more … There’s so much good learning going on and so many powerful lessons – it’s essential for parents to have access to a program like this.”

In addition to the academic benefits of OST programs, children also see benefits in their everyday lives that can positively impact them throughout their lives. The teacher survey found that participation in OST programs leads to improved classroom behavior, as well as improved social skills and behavioral learning that can carry over into other aspects of their lives such as relationships with parents and future work environments. Participating in an OST program also provides children with the opportunity to meet other children from a broad variety of backgrounds within their community, encouraging them to grow into more empathetic and understanding people. 

In an after-school program, children can also find mentors within their own communities in the caring and qualified – yet underpaid – staff: 91% of parents are satisfied that their child’s after-school program has knowledgeable and caring staff, according to a survey from the Afterschool Alliance.  

Beyond their relationships with peers and teachers, OST programs also boost a child’s own self-perception because these improvements will not just be seen in test scores; they will be felt. When the child feels this success, they will see that they are capable of achieving high test scores, completing homework, maintaining attendance, building positive relationships with other children and adults, and their self-worth will grow. In order to build a brighter future, we do not only need children that are successful on paper; we need children to both know their value and have the ability to see value in others as well.

Our organizations are a prime example of fostering this success in both rural and suburban communities. The Schools & Home in Education program, which serves rural communities in the northeast corner of Pennsylvania, has seen 83% of participants improve in math, reading, and science comprehension. This improvement in these different areas allows the participants to explore their interests outside of the classroom setting while still seeing growth within it. In addition to the academic benefits of SHINE, the program found 77% of participants improved their social-emotional learning comprehension. Programs in urban communities, like Sunrise Philadelphia, see similar benefits and improvements. 

The sole barrier to seeing the expanded success of OST programs is funding, even though the state saves $6.69 for every $1 invested in OST programs, thanks to the benefits of reductions in substance use, violent crime, teen pregnancies and high school dropout rates. 

To combat this underfunding, bipartisan groups of legislators in both the state House and Senate have proposed the Building Opportunity Through Out-Of-School Time (BOOST) bill, which funds programs across the state to restore these opportunities. 

The BOOST bill is an opportunity that we cannot lose for our children this budget season, particularly as the state boasts a multibillion-dollar surplus. OST programs have consistently proven to be reliable sources of education and positive experiences for our children – no matter what ZIP code they live in, whether they live in a big city or the smallest township. Every child deserves access; they’re worth it. 

Vince Litrenta, executive director of Sunrise of Philadelphia and Rachel Miller, executive director of the Schools & Home in Education program serving rural communities in the northeast corner of Pennsylvania, have worked a combined 50 years on the front lines of after-school programming for children around the state.