MARY ANN WOLF: Programs outside traditional school day, key for student success

Posted January 18, 2021 5:00 a.m. EST

Education Matters: Mary Ann Wolf

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is Mary Ann Wolf's "Final Word" from the Jan. 16, 2021 broadcast of Education Matters: "North Carolina after 3 pm: Afterschool programs rank 6th nationally." Wolf is president and executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina.

The value of programs that support students outside of the traditional school day here in North Carolina is clear: the Afterschool Alliance, a national organization based in Washington, D.C. finds that we rank in the top 10 states in the nation when it comes to afterschool programs, and overall parent satisfaction ranks us first out of all 50 states.

Quality programming that supports students outside of the traditional school day is critical to student success and during COVID-19 our communities are relying on these innovative enrichment programs more than ever before. When school buildings closed their doors at the beginning of the pandemic, many programs remained open to provide care for essential workers’ children.

Our afterschool programs across North Carolina have truly risen to the moment during COVID-19 to partner with schools, provide care and meals, and develop and deliver virtual programming online for students staying home.

Yet we also know that unmet demand for these programs -- which is the percentage of North Carolina parents who say they would enroll their child in an afterschool program if one were available to them -- remains very high, especially among low-income families who report cost as a significant barrier.

For every child in an afterschool program in North Carolina today, three more are waiting to get in. And that unmet need is even more stark in rural communities across our state.

This significant unmet demand is an unfortunate reality because communities face major funding constraints when it comes to ensuring North Carolina has a robust infrastructure to support afterschool programs — in spite of the fact that for every dollar spent on afterschool programs, we know there is a three dollar return on that investment. To ensure all those who want their children to participate in afterschool programs are able to have that access, it will take increased federal and state investments.

Fortunately, these programs have bipartisan support, and that’s because the things that these programs serve:

  • Promoting workforce development,;
  • Increasing community safety;
  • Promoting leadership and skill development;
  • Providing greater support for working families.

They are things we can agree are critical to the success of our local communities.

As the world continues to respond to this COVID-19, now more than ever we must continue to advocate for and support education programs in North Carolina and across the nation.

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