OST Voices Blog: Episode #3 | After-School All-Stars DC

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February 11, 2021
Blog Post

OST Voices Blog: Episode #3 | After-School All-Stars DC
By Davide Carozza, Development Coordinator at After-School All-Stars DC

At After-School All-Stars DC, we draw daily inspiration from the strength and creativity of our students. Recently, we looked on as one of our AmeriCorps instructors, a scientist, led 35 excited middle schoolers on a virtual field trip. With instruction from a scientist from the Mad Science Group, an organization that provides interactive STEM activities for kids, students performed experiments related to chemistry and climatology ‒ all from the safety of their homes. This event, which supplements our daily academic support, is an example for the enrichment programming we offer to our All-Stars. A reminder of the joy of discovery and the power of learning through free exploration, the field trip offered a welcome reprieve during difficult times.

Unfortunately, these outlets are all too rare for the students with whom we work. Four out of our six programs serve students in Ward 8, where the poverty rate is the highest in the District. Because of this, many students lack access to the learning and enrichment opportunities that their more affluent peers enjoy. The contrast between this lack of opportunity and the palpable curiosity our students expressed throws into sharp relief the wellspring of potential in middle schoolers that is going untapped—a problem that the COVID-19 pandemic has surely exacerbated.

Now more than ever, organizations like ASAS DC need the resources and political capital to expand their footprint and bring valuable services to as many students as possible. After the pandemic hit, we went from serving over 500 youth each school day to reaching just under half that number, despite intensive outreach efforts. Many families lack the computers and internet access they need to attend virtual school, much less afterschool activities. One of our most dedicated All-Stars, an infectiously positive young man taking part in our literary arts class, recently left us because his mother was struggling to juggle working from home and making sure that he was ready for virtual afterschool programming each afternoon.

As DCPS grapples with the cumulative effects of disrupted learning, they can and should turn to partners like us that have experience filling the gaps. Afterschool providers have long thought about how to deliver flexible, accessible programming with broad appeal, enabling us to reach the most disconnected students. For instance, when DCPS closed schools in March 2020, we had a full slate of virtual afterschool offerings ready in just three weeks. By identifying high-performing partners and staff who already had the needed skills for this transition, we were able to pivot quickly while training new teachers who would later help us expand our catalogue of offerings. This experience allowed us to test and develop quality online programming, safety protocols for students, and new enrollment and recruitment strategies, all while providing new professional development models in online teaching to our staff. We are eager to bring that expertise to the table as part of digital learning, curriculum catch-up, and school reopening plans. Unfortunately, we have not always found receptive partners. Far from being a secondary concern, services like ours represent the best chance the school system has to get students back on track after two school years that have been (and will be) anything but normal.

The best testaments to this fact come directly from our students and parents. One student, Ezekiel, called our virtual programming “a fun, exhilarating ride to help pass the time and to overcome stress while being in the house,” while Mariame enjoyed meeting “a lot of different people” and doing “different things that I wouldn’t have a chance to do in school.” While students tended to focus on the diversity of experience as a welcome antidote to social isolation, parents were grateful for the psychological and material support we were able to provide. One praised the “emotional support” ASAS offered and said, “you don’t know how much it meant when you dropped [off] the supplies for the kids. … I want you to all know I am extremely happy to have you in our life during this pandemic. I cannot picture our life [right now] without you.”

ASAS DC’s model is proven, serving over 500 students from the Wards 6, 7, and 8, and offering measurable improvements in behavior, homework completion, and academic performance. We are proud of these successes, and eager to take on the challenge of finding a foothold in new schools and communities to push back against the massive—and still growing—learning loss facing DCPS and its students. In order for this to happen, organizations like ours must have a seat at the table when schools discuss reopening plans and curriculum design, and we shouldn’t be shut out of funding just because in-person services have been suspended. It is understandable that schools are trying to triage right now, focused on their most pressing issues in the face of unprecedented challenges. What we hope to make clear is that we are not one of the issues that needs facing–we are part of the solution. With the help of advocacy groups like DC Action for Children and Afterschool Alliance, and through the DC Out-of-School Time Coalition, we can support students in their time of need while setting the stage for expanded programs that last long beyond the pandemic. That’s a future for middle school children in DC about which we can all be excited.

 

About This Series

As part of our work with the newly formed DC OST Coalition, DC Action continues our blog series spotlighting out-of-school time programs. With it, we will create space to share the stories of voices that have been left out of the discussion about how to support virtual learning and provide for safe and healthy in-person learning for those who need access to it.

Out-of-school-time organizations have long supported the District’s children and youth with academic and cultural enrichment, opportunities to explore and develop skills, in pursuing their passions, and as social and emotional safe havens. With school buildings closed for multiple months, and some students still attending school virtually, many children haven’t been able to continue participating in the activities they love.

OST programs effectively support students and families who need it most. As the effects of the coronavirus continue to plague the District, OST programs remain a critical lifeline, mitigating learning loss by supporting students during virtual learning and increasing student engagement. It is critical that the District include out-of-school time programs in plans for supporting our students and families.

Check out previous episodes of OST Voices: