HALF-POINT / SHUTTERSTOCK
Not so long ago, the word “pods” conjured up images of body thieves invading our communities or our herds of marine mammals. Today they are touted as one of the best prospects for frustrated parents looking for a way to keep their children engaged and learning when schools are closed.
But the promise of learning modules isn’t available to everyone – by far. These parent-organized groups only work for families who have disposable income in this pandemic, who can afford to hire teachers, guardians and / or private caregivers to help their children learn while they are they are doing their job. It’s a solution that works for those who can afford it. They buy the peace of mind that comes from knowing their children are safe, supervised, and completing their virtual schoolwork while earning a living and continuing their careers.
There is no doubt that these pods will play a vital role for many families. But there is no doubt that they will further widen our nation’s fairness gap. Relying on the learning modules will leave more students from low- and middle-income families, more employed parents struggling to keep their children from falling apart academically and socially, and more racial gaps and income in education, literacy and workforce preparation.
A solution for everyone
The good news is that there is an alternative that relies on proven organizations: to help them learn, protect their health and that of their instructors, support their social and emotional health, and provide more equitable solutions. But we need to invest in community learning centers to make them work.
Without a doubt, students from all walks of life will need extra support this school year. They will need academic support to deal with the learning loss related to COVID-19 so they can catch up and move forward. And they will need supports for social and emotional learning, especially with so many families and communities in crisis and under unprecedented stress.
School districts that reopen in person can work with traditional extracurricular and youth development partners to provide these supports after the end of the school day, but with most districts opting for fully virtual or hybrid school schedules, there is a need. compelling for those in the extracurricular and youth development field to support students at non-traditional times, with non-traditional activities and in non-traditional ways.
During virtual school days, Community Learning Centers are in-person programs provided by community organizations and / or local government agencies in partnership with local school districts. Informed by Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention advice, they follow safety procedures and precautions. Informed by years of experience serving students after school and during the summer, they offer academic support, social and emotional learning, and enrichment activities during all times when students are not physically at home. school. Informed by relationships with students, they connect families in need with food, housing, translation services and other services and social supports.
Earlier this summer, Afterschool Alliance published “A plan for how after-school programs and community partners can helpWhich provides a framework for the construction of such community learning centers or hubs. It describes how schools, after-school programs, local government, community organizations and parents can develop and adapt school reopening plans that ensure children learn, are safe, engaged, and develop academic, social and skills skills. emotional during their parents’ working hours. . Over 60 various national organizations have joined.
Reforms, additional funding will make it possible
For such partnerships to successfully serve students and families, flexibility in federal program requirements and additional funding are needed.
Legislative language in both 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) and federal funding streams from the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) prevent funds from these initiatives from being used during a school day. Most states interpret a “school day” to include a virtual school day.
We need flexibility from the Department of Education and the Ministry of Health and Social Services (HHS) to enable programs to access these funds for community learning centers or centers.
Fortunately, the HHS Office of Child Care recently clarifications issued that CCDBG funds can be used for this purpose. We need similar flexibility from the US Department of Education to allow 21st CCLC the same flexibility. Congress can solve this problem by inserting language into an upcoming COVID-19 relief bill to allow the 21st CCLC to be used in the same way.
We also need additional funds to support programs that for years served students three hours a day, five days a week and now serve them much longer. Schools and after-school programs have already been hit hard by the pandemic and are in desperate need of additional funds. A poll conducted by the Afterschool Alliance this summer found that 84% of program providers said they feared they might not be able to provide services in the fall, and more than eight in 10 said it was very important to get funding and better advice and resources. to protect the health and safety of staff and students. Almost half (45%) said they had ever laid off or on leave of staff.
Several states have been creative by accessing federal COVID-19 relief dollars and other funding sources to support community learning centers and centers, but that won’t be enough, especially when we factor in lower student-to-staff ratios, PPE costs, and of great need. Experts estimate that as they return to work during distance learning days and school closures this fall, nearly 3 million low-income workers will need school-age child care for 4.5 million students. Data on costs per student indicate that $ 6.2 billion more than current authorization is needed to increase capacity to meet this increased demand.
Congress is now working on a new COVID-19 relief program that can allow this flexibility and provide much-needed funding. Encourage representatives and senators doing so can make a big difference and help reduce the damage this public health crisis is causing to our young people.
Our country’s promise of equal opportunities rests on the idea of giving every child a quality education. COVID-19 has disrupted this; it threatens to lead us in the wrong direction. But we can overcome it. There are solutions that will work for all of us as we fight to get to the other side of this pandemic. We just have to invest in them. If we do – if we invest in the promise that after-school and youth development programs can deliver – we will help all of our children stay on track rather than deepen the inequalities our country is already struggling to overcome. .
Jodi Grant is the Executive Director of the Alliance After School.
Jen Rinehart is senior vice president for research and policy at the Extracurricular Alliance.