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Monday, 27 March 2017 09:06

Michelle Schmitt, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Education in the School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University, helped obtain a grant that established the Virginia Partnership for Out-of-School Time, a statewide public-private partnership that is dedicated to expanding programs that serve students before-school, after-school, during vacation periods, and over the summer.

Schmitt is director of the Center for School-Community Collaboration at the School of Education, and a licensed clinical psychologist and certified substance abuse counselor who has worked in juvenile and adult corrections. When it comes to improving students’ grades, attendance, self-esteem, teamwork or even just providing them with a safe place, Schmitt said she can think of few investments of public spending that are as effective as evidence-based after-school and summer programs.

For a number of years, You served as a grant reviewer for Virginia's 21st Century community awards, which distributes federal funds to school programs in Virginia and which is on the chopping block in Trump’s budget. What sort of programs does this money fund?

The 21st Century program funds after-school and summer programs. Grants are awarded in Virginia through a competitive process, as there are more sites with students who want these programs than there are funds available. Typically, less than half of those who apply are awarded funding. Priority points are given in the competitive review process for sites that serve more impoverished areas, as well as high school-aged youth. In 2014-15, 22,489 students in Virginia were served by 21st Century funded programming.

The Trump administration is arguing that after-school programs aren’t working. What does the research show about these programs’ effectiveness?

I believe the difficulty may be in the federal evaluation of these programs. Virginia, like other funded states, requires programs that receive funding to report data into a nationwide program evaluation. When these types of national evaluations are completed, in an attempt to collect data that spans every program in every state, specificity is often lost.

For example, we expect that “students will improve” when they attend after-school and/or summer programing. Certainly, a student who only attends an after-school program one week out of the year is likely to not improve as much as one who attends every day.

Not all programs are run in schools. Thus, they have to rely on students to share grades with them. Not all states use the same grading scales. Every state comes up with its own end-of-year state-wide assessment tool; in Virginia, [it is] the Standards of Learning.

“For some students it is grades, for some it is attendance, self-esteem, team-work and having a safe place to belong.”

What we do know: Quality after-school programs do have positive impact on students’ lives. For some students it is grades, for some it is attendance, self-esteem, team-work and having a safe place to belong. Juvenile “crime time,” the three to four hours from the end of school to dinnertime, is a concern for most communities. According to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, juvenile violence peaks in the after-school hours on school days and in the evenings on non-school days.

Having a safe, pro-social, supervised place to be during these hours is a protective factor, especially for youth who live amid many other risk factors.

The school day is 5.5 hours; for full-time working parents, that means some form of out-of-school care is needed. At $5/hour for two kids, it’s easy to see that for those making $10/hour, this cost can be a huge burden that often results in “latch-key kids.” Knowing one’s child is safe, cared for, and homework assistance is provided is a huge assistance to many working parents.

Research has shown that while achievement during the school year for children in all socio-economic ranges is about equal, it is during the summer that gaps appear. Children in the lowest socio-economic bracket lose the most during the summer months, in what has been termed “summer slide.” Summer day-camp type of programming with 21st Century funding includes reading and math enrichment to off-set this “slide.” Studies have shown that students can lose two or more months of achievement in math and reading over a summer.

If funding for after-school programs is cut, what do think will happen as a result?

I believe we’ll see more spending on juvenile justice, both youthful victims and perpetrators; and I think that the achievement gap will continue to widen. 

While people discuss not wanting social-funding that simply gives “hand-outs,” this is truly offering “hand-up” type of funding, assisting working parents in enriching their children’s lives in pro-social and pro-achievement manner. I can think of fewer wise investments in public spending than in evidence-based out-of-school time programming.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 July 2017 10:06