Learning Doesn’t Stop at Three O’Clock

In New York City all eyes are on Mayor Bill de Blasio, who’s working to expand afterschool programming for all the city’s middle schoolers. Here’s why afterschool matters.

New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, has proposed a plan that would give every middle schooler in the city access to afterschool programs. And he’s in a hurry. As this article from the Hechinger Report tells it, he wants to launch the new program in September and fund it with the same tax on New York’s wealthiest that would also support universal pre-kindergarten. At a recent press conference, de Blasio called high-quality afterschool learning a “game changer” for children.

At the scale he’s proposing, it could also be a game changer in closing the achievement gap and making New York City a national leader in the movement to give children more time to learn. With increased public funds for afterschool, more low-income students can take part. Typically, less affluent students have less access to afterschool programs, though they gain more by participating.

The evidence backs up de Blasio’s proposal. The Afterschool Alliance cites research showing that afterschool programs keep kids out of trouble between 3 and 6 p.m., the peak hours for juvenile crime and experiments with sex, drugs, and alcohol. Afterschool programs have also been shown to improve school attendance, grades, and even test scores, especially among the students most at risk for failing at school. And de Blasio’s pairing of universal preschool with afterschool programming also has evidence to support it. A 2006 study by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman indicates following early education with participation in afterschool programs can reduce young people’s chances of starting drug use by 50 percent. (Last April, we took an in-depth look at evaluating afterschool programs in this post.)

In the race to lead the nation’s efforts to give kids more learning time, New York will face stiff competition from Pittsburgh. Our networks are strong and getting stronger. For example, Allegheny Partners for Out of School Time, or APOST, connects more than 650 afterschool providers and helps them build better programs. Funders are taking notice. In December, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation extended another two years of funding to Pittsburgh’s HIVE Learning Network, which aims to expand learning opportunities for young people beyond schools to museums, libraries, afterschool programs, and community centers.

“Learning doesn’t stop at three o’clock,” said Cathy Lewis Long, executive director of the Sprout Fund, which runs HIVE Pittsburgh. “Learning is anywhere, anytime, and it takes all the assets of a community to really contribute to good learning outcomes.” (Listen here for more.)

Some of Pittsburgh’s most exciting afterschool innovations connect kids to digital media and civic engagement.

“I think there are a lot of programs for high-school-aged youth that are really promising,” said Tom Akiva, who studies afterschool learning and authentic youth leadership at the University of Pittsburgh. He cites programs where youth help hire staff, determine program activities, and even make decisions about how to spend money—such as in The Heinz Endowments’ summer youth philanthropy program, where young people research community issues, develop funding guidelines, and award $25,000 in competitive grants. Youth funders also build digital media skills in radio, animation, and video to publicize their work.

Additionally, the new Remake Learning Digital Corps, a partnership between the Sprout Fund and APOST, will match newly trained digital learning experts with afterschool programs in Allegheny County. The initiative aims to lower barriers that prevent the effective use of digital tools in out-of-school programs.

“If we move toward a connected learning model where kids are more integrated into the adult world, greater civic engagement could be one of the outcomes,” Akiva said.

Published February 24, 2014