Local after-school programs shine in new statewide report

Local after-school programs shine in new statewide report

Riverzedge Arts participants and staff members hike at Arethusa Falls in New Hampshire as part of the organization’s expanded learning opportunities, one of several after-school programs highlighted in a new report from United Way that calls for more funding for out-of-school learning time.
Advocates: More funding needed

WOONSOCKET – Less than half of Rhode Island families who want to enroll their K-12 students in an afterschool or summer learning program are able to find one, according to new data released last month.

According to United Way of Rhode Island’s report on out-of-school time learning, 34,704 Rhode Island students are currently enrolled in afterschool programs. Another 37,471 students are waiting for an available program, while 27,062 are alone and unsupervised after school.

The report comes on the heels of a disappointing round of RICAS scores. According to 2019 test results, only 38 percent of students in grades 3-8 in Rhode Island are reading at grade level, while only 30 percent are proficient in math. Those averages worsen for students with disabilities, children from low-income families and English language learners.

The report highlights the graduation rates for students who participated in after-school programs in Woonsocket, where only 72 percent of students graduated high school in four years in 2018. In contrast, 96 percent of students who participated in Riverzedge Arts expanded learning opportunities, and 100 percent of students who participated in its arts and business program, graduated from high school in 2016.

Riverzedge is one of two out-of-school learning programs in Woonsocket receiving funding as a 21st Century Learning Center. The program, along with one operated by Connecting for Children and Families in partnership with the Woonsocket Education Department, receives federal funds distributed by the Rhode Island Department of Education to provide academic enrichment for students who attend low-performing schools. Across the city, 1,539 students participated in a 21st Century Learning Center after-school program in 2017-2018, and another 368 participated in summer programs in 2017.

Larry Warner, director of grants and strategic initiatives for United Way R.I., pointed out the importance of afterschool programs in filling in these learning gaps. According to the report, children who participate in out-of-school time learning are more likely to adapt socially and emotionally, develop workplace skills and improve academically. Students who participate in summer programs are less likely to lose educational gains over the summer, and parents of students in after-school programs find it easier to keep steady employment.

“This is important, because it provides the framework for understanding the importance of out-of-school time learning,” said Warner.

Statewide, nearly 12,000 students each year benefit from 21st Century Learning Center programs funded by the federal government. However, according to the report, that’s not nearly enough. In 2017-2018, school and community agencies requested $7.3 million in 21st Century funding statewide. Only $2.7 million of these were funded, meaning two out of every three after-school funding requests went unmet. Agencies typically fill these gaps by applying for other public or private grants or charging program fees.

“That’s a huge loss to the students in that community,” said Warner. “There are other communities where funding would facilitate access, because cost is a huge barrier.”

As a solution, United Way is proposing the state establish a dedicated source of after-school program funding, as is currently done in 18 other states, according to the report. In Massachusetts, agencies can apply to receive state funding through the Quality Enhancements in After-School and Out-of-School Time Grant Program, which currently funds $2 million in programs every year.

“We are planning and will soon be engaging media and other partners in an advocacy campaign to call for a designated funding stream in the state budget to ensure that as many families and households as want to have access to a summer learning program have access,” said Warner.

The bill would create a line item in the state budget to support out-of-school learning programs. As far as he knows, it’s the first time any such funding stream will be proposed through state legislation.