WF: The pandemic has had a significant impact on the out-of-school time sector. What gives you hope and what keeps you up at night?
JP: In a state where afterschool programs are heavily run through schools, that meant so many kids lost access to these essential services while schools were shut down last year. Our providers around the state were the ones that were opening up learning hubs for homeless kids, for English learners, for kids whose parents had no choice but to be at work. All of the difficult circumstances we know that kids went through, our folks stepped in to make sure kids got their meals, Wi-Fi devices and, in many cases, they just found places and ways to serve kids creatively. We and our partners documented and communicated a lot about these amazing efforts and our field got some overdue recognition. The big investments we are seeing now are partly a result of what people saw our field do during the pandemic, but it was also a result of decades of hard work by leaders in our field that positioned us for this moment.
In California, for example, on top of the
federal investment last spring, the state put in $4.6 billion in emergency COVID money just for expanded learning. Our half-a-billion-dollar investment in afterschool previously was by far the largest in the nation and now $4.6 billion was being pumped into this system, plus the federal money, and now even more state money that’s meant to be ongoing. I never thought I'd see a day when we got so much more investment than we even asked for. But we now have the opposite challenge, which is that there's
so much money coming into the system all at once that there's little capacity to implement it effectively. We are very focused right now on trying to influence how implementation happens based on everything we know from research and experience about quality, impactful program delivery. We are also very focused on documentation and storytelling. We must be constantly telling the story to policy leaders about the difference this investment can make for kids, so that we have a chance to sustain it over time.
WF: If you could wave a magic wand and make one policy change to impact students and youth, what would it be?
JP: One thing that remains a gap that I hope is going to shift, is how we're supporting our community-based program providers. In California, the massive investment of expanded learning funds is all going through school systems, so schools are responsible for implementing programs. I understand the instinct around that by our state leaders because we want these services, supports and opportunities to be aligned with educational outcomes. However, it creates a power dynamic around the resources that plays out in ways that aren't necessarily beneficial to implementing quality programs at the local level.
In some places, our community-based organizations have much more experience and expertise at delivering high-quality expanded learning than our school systems do. Yet, it's up to the whims of the district around whether they're going to bring in a community-based partner and how much they're going to pay them or honor them for their time and work. I want to see a portion of this investment going directly to support our community-based sector.
And then, aligned with that in policy, I want to see more teeth around what is currently an encouragement of districts to collaborate with communities in this work. Current policy articulates that community partnerships are important; it tells school districts that they should be including community organizations of all kinds in their planning and implementation which is a great step, but there’s no requirement. That's something else I think needs to change.
Photos courtesy of Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma-Marin and Bay Area Community Resources