Students spend just 20% of their waking hours in school. How they spend the remaining 80% of their time has a profound impact on their academic success and on their critical thinking and collaboration skills, perseverance, and other traits that contribute to their lifetime achievement and well-being.
It’s clear that schools cannot do it alone. Washington State faces a widening opportunity gap—the education system simply cannot solve this crisis on its own and must engage other sectors to ensure low-income students and students of color impacted by this gap receive the holistic support they need to reach their full potential.
Afterschool, youth development, and summer programs encourage skills that prepare students for the real world. These expanded learning opportunities build on what happens during the school day with activities like:
- Educational enrichment
- Cultural and social development
- Physical activity and health promotion
- Visual and performing arts
- Leadership skills, and
- Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) learning
Whether at a large agency like the Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCAs or smaller organizations like Reel Grrls, Tacoma Community Boat Builders, and Red Eagle Soaring, these programs serve a critical role in fostering healthy communities.
Tyrek Johnson, a high school student in a film produced by Reel Grrls, started attending the Lakewood Branch of Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound when he was in 5th grade.
He talks about how the afterschool and summer program helped him make a positive turn. “I used to hang out with the wrong group of people. I found a new group and they brought me here, and it really put me on track. My grades have gotten way better since coming here.”
During the summer months, cost and transportation are barriers to accessing summer programs, leading to learning loss that exacerbates the achievement gap. In fact, summer learning loss contributes to two-thirds of the achievement gap between low and higher income kids by the time they reach 5th grade.
But it’s not just about access. A growing body of research shows that the quality of a program matters in supporting students to achieve positive social emotional, health, and academic gains.
In 2014, School’s Out Washington (SOWA) worked with diverse organizations across the state to develop Quality Standards that all groups serving youth outside the classroom can voluntarily adopt. These standards cover everything from cultural responsiveness to student safety and wellness to professional development for staff and volunteers.
Since 2009, SOWA has supported hundreds of programs using a tool developed by the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality to engage in a continuous quality improvement process with coaching, training, and assessment to better engage and interact with youth. Just this past year, SOWA and the Weikart Center led a research study, supported by the Raikes Foundation, showing a clear link between the quality of summer learning programs and the academic outcomes they produce.
In a Parent Map magazine series on afterschool programs, Holy Chea from The Greater Tacoma Community Foundation explains the importance of quality programs in supporting youth of color and how meaningful relationships between youth and adults is a vital element of quality. “When there is staff of color interacting with students [of color], just by physically looking at them, kids can remove that barrier and see staff as role models,” Chea says. “It’s about mentorship, and even respect, where kids will learn, for instance, to shake one another’s hand — things like that, that a lot of young men struggle with.”
Afterschool and summer programs provide critical supports to working families, but that’s just the beginning. These opportunities nurture young people as they discover passions, talents and skills they didn’t know they had, giving them support from a community that believes in them, and celebrating young people as they learn to believe in themselves and their potential within.
To learn more about the afterschool and youth development field in Washington State, visit School’s Out Washington’s website.
 Smith, C., Helegda, K., Ramaswamy, R., Hillaker, B., McGovern, G., & Roy, L. (2015). Quality Outcomes Study for Seattle Public Schools Summer Programs Summer 2015 Program Cycle. Forum for Youth Investment. Retrieved from Seattle Public Schools website.