New MetLife Foundation issue brief: Afterschool Supporting Students with Disabilities and Other Special Needs
At the Afterschool Alliance we constantly work to provide information and research that is most relevant and pressing in the afterschool field. Last week, our communications manager posted a blog that shared our most popular documents in 2013 and the document that took the number two spot was our 2008 issue brief, “Afterschool Benefits Kids with Special Needs.” I’m happy to share that our latest MetLife Foundation issue brief, “Afterschool Supporting Students with Disabilities and Other Special Needs,” is an update to our 2008 brief.
This issue brief provides new statistics and research on students with disabilities and other special needs, highlighting the benefits of inclusive learning environments and the role that afterschool programs play to help students of all abilities grow academically, socially and emotionally. Although students with disabilities and other special needs face their own set of challenges as they move through school and on to adulthood, providing opportunities to participate in activities in a meaningful way, learning side-by-side with peers without disabilities, developing friendships and other life skills, and feeling a sense of belonging and acceptance, are all ways that can help them address and overcome the challenges in their life. The brief discusses the variety of ways afterschool programs provide an inclusive learning environment and features afterschool programs across the country, from Unified Theater in Hartford, Connecticut—a program fostering inclusion and developing student leaders through the arts, to Thriving Minds After-School in Dallas, Texas—an afterschool program that uses parent feedback to tailor their programming to best support their students.
We released this issue brief at the National AfterSchool Association’s Annual Convention in New York City over the weekend. If you attended, I hope that you were able to stop by our booth and pick up a copy.
On Valentine’s Day, a number of working moms sent an open-letter Valentine to their afterschool programs, thanking them for keeping their kids safe after school, inspiring them to learn, and providing an engaging and academically enriching learning environment. Their heartfelt letters echo what polls and research have shown for years—afterschool programs are providing the essential support working families need.
Our 2011 issue brief “Afterschool and Working Families in the Wake of the Great Recession” not only explores the variety of ways afterschool programs are helping kids learn and grow, but discusses the peace of mind they bring to parents while they are at work. For example, a study by Catalyst and Brandeis University found that as many as 2.5 million parents are overly stressed by what their children are doing after school. One aspect that leads to an even higher risk for stress is when their children are unsupervised during the hours after school. Afterschool programs give working parents the reassurance they need that their children are in a safe and supportive environment during the gap in time between when the school day ends and when they get home from work. A survey last fall of working parents in New York reported that 95 percent said that they rely on child care and afterschool programs to keep their jobs.
Research and evaluation are critical to understanding, improving and growing a policy, a program or an organization. Federal, state and local government; as well as foundations and other public and private sector funding agencies are increasingly asking for this information that will give them greater insight into outcomes and the impact of their investment. Afterschool Alliance understands the importance of research and evaluation in the afterschool field and “Taking a Deeper Dive into Afterschool: Positive Outcomes and Promising Practices” synthesizes the findings of research covering hundreds of afterschool programs. The report highlights the positive results of these programs on the students who participate in them and outlines the promising practices associated with quality programs.
The report is divided into three sections: the first section reviews evaluations that assess outcomes of students who participate in afterschool programs, the second section presents a summary of promising practices of afterschool programs based on a synthesis of existing research, and the third section provides detailed examples of afterschool programs implementing each promising practice.
- School engagement, including attendance and likelihood of staying in school;
- Student behavior, including participation in at-risk behaviors, such as criminal activity, gang involvement, drug and alcohol use, or sexual activity; and
- Academic performance, including test scores, grades, graduation rates and college enrollment.
Patrick Riccards, co-host of the #CommonCore radio podcast on BAM Radio Network, described the episode that included our own Vice President of Policy and Research Jen Rinehart as a “breath of fresh air.” Riccards was impressed that the interview—which also included Jennifer Davis, co-founder and president of the National Center on Time & Learning—focused on learning, rather than testing. He also pointed out the value of conversations centered on what learning means for students, and how can we best ensure that our students succeed not just under the Common Core, but in school, career and life.
Jen spoke about the integral role afterschool programs can play in supporting students and teachers around the Common Core State Standards:
“ We know that afterschool programs are working to provide very engaging learning environments for kids where they have the opportunities to be active learners, to collaborate and communicate with peers in a low-stakes type of setting where they can feel free to try things out and not be concerned about failing…and that sort of environment aligns very nicely with the habits of mind that underpin the Common Core—the kind of thinking skills that you want kids to develop to be able to succeed under the Common Core.”
The California Department of Education’s After School Division (ASD) recently released their 2014-2016 strategic plan, “A Vision for Expanded Learning in California.” In collaboration with a strategic implementation team of 80 teachers and afterschool program providers and supporters, and after close to two years of planning; surveying the field; gathering and analyzing data; meeting with key stakeholders; and developing objectives, activities and indicators of success, four strategic initiatives were identified:
- System of Support: providing a comprehensive and coordinated system of support and accountability to maintain and improve program quality when encouraging creativity and innovation in the field.
- Grant Administration and Policy: developing and maintaining clearly defined guidelines, program requirements, and processes supporting efficient program administration.
- Communication/Information Systems: communicating with the field in a clear, timely and transparent manner
- Expanded Learning/K-12 Integration: championing expanded learning as a vital and integral part of the education process.
Following up on the release of our first issue brief of the year, we hosted our first webinar of the year featuring three afterschool programs highlighted in the Common Core issue brief: Bridge the Gap College Prep in Marin City, California, Baltimore Urban Debate League (BUDL) in Baltimore, Maryland, and Raising Expectations in Atlanta, Georgia. The issue brief was only able to broadly discuss the unique and interesting ways these programs are supporting learning around the Common Core, and the webinar served as a platform for the programs to expand on their work and share with the field in greater detail about how they’ve tailored their programs to be more intentional about connecting to the Common Core.
From Rhode Island to Washington state and everywhere in-between, statewide afterschool networks are bringing together the afterschool field to find ways to support learning under the new Common Core State Standards.
Last November, School’s Out Washington held a one-day workshop to help align afterschool activities with school day lessons, as well as help afterschool providers communicate with parents and keep them informed about the Common Core. The workshop was open to afterschool and youth development programs interested in learning about how they can help students meet the goals and expectations of the Common Core. Janet Schmidt, chief program and policy officer for School’s Out Washington, commented that in afterschool programs, “[Kids] have that space, that time, to really dig in and experience things hands-on in a new way than what a classroom teacher has during the school day, with the constraints of the schedules that they have.”
In June, Adam Greenman, executive director of the Rhode Island After School Plus Alliance (RIASPA), shared how his organization is working with afterschool programs in Rhode Island to better understand the Common Core. From holding information sessions and presentations about the Common Core to working with the state’s Department of Education to provide joint professional development opportunities for school day staff and afterschool providers, RIASPA is working to help programs align their work to foster success among students. Adam said it best, “The Common Core State Standards offer afterschool practitioners and teachers opportunities to align programming and content with each other in a way that satisfies our mutual goals: the healthy development of children and youth.”
At the Afterschool Alliance, we are thrilled to start off the new year with the release of the first in a series of issue briefs that explore the many ways afterschool programs are playing an integral role supporting the academic, social and emotional growth of middle schoolers across the country. In partnership with MetLife Foundation, this year’s series of issue briefs will focus on the Common Core State Standards, students with disabilities and other special needs, the use of data to improve afterschool programs, and keeping kids safe and supported in the hours after school. This issue brief, “Afterschool and the Common Core State Standards,” discusses the need to better prepare students for future success in college and work; the basics of the Common Core; and the variety of ways afterschool programs are working with students, teachers and schools to support learning under the Common Core.
The latest Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) scores released in December 2013 found that the U.S. ranked 26 in math, 21 in science and 17 in reading out of the 34 OECD countries. The scores also showed that a higher percentage of U.S. students were performing at the lower levels of PISA’s proficiency scale in math than the OECD average. However, what stood out among OECD’s findings was that U.S. students had shown no significant change in their reading scores since 2000, no significant change in math since 2000 and no significant change in science since 2006.