Among the many casualties of the Covid-19 pandemic, have been after school programs. After school programs are wonderful supplements to school programs. Parents use them to ensure that their children get the education they need. Teachers often have a lot of students to teach and strict curriculum guidelines, making it hard for them to give children the individual care, attention and freedom they need to thrive. Students need the rigor of school with the attention and freedom of after school programs. Yet, as PBS discusses in a fascinating piece, after school programs have been forced to evolve to meet the challenges the pandemic poses.
A key strength of after school programs has been the hands-on attention that children get. When stay-at-home orders forced after school programs to go remote, ensuring that children would still get hands-on experience, was vital. This was especially true for children from low-income households, who became even more dependent on after school programs to thrive.
Remote learning is challenging for both children and adults. One of the difficulties arises from the medium: it’s hard to pay extended attention to a screen. The digital experience is less connected than physically being in class, and this can make it hard to feel engaged.
One solution that PBS found comes from Tamara Hudgins, the executive director of Girlstart, an after school program aimed at girls. She decided that she would give the girls in her program physical kits made her her organization. The kits would contain everything the girls needed for the program. So at the start of the program, each girl would be given the kit, either by mail or it would be dropped off. The kit would have everything the girl needed for that week. So, for instance, in a week when they were discussing DNA phenotypes, they would get supplies related to that subject. On another week, when they were discussing aerodynamic principles, they would get material on that subject.
This is an example of how after school programs have adapted to the challenges of teaching their children during the pandemic. It’s not just about physical deliveries of supplies. The major problem that has challenged after school programs is how to continue to enrich children’s learning during such a difficult time.
As we said, it’s particularly hard for children from low-income households. This is because the cost of running an after-school program in person has escalated. You need to have personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, as well as other Covid-19 interventions, and the children must be taught in small groups. This threatens to make them inaccessible for children from low-income households.
According to a survey conducted by the Afterschool Alliance just before the pandemic, nearly 60% of parents said that their children were getting STEM instruction at least twice a week through after school programs. Many of these parents said that after school programs helped their children’s comprehension of STEM subjects. The programs also helped their children gain confidence in STEM subjects, feel better about themselves, improve their social skills and make better decisions. It’s hard to overstate the importance of after school programs. Organizers of after school programs will continue to evolve to try and meet the challenges of the pandemic.