Testimony of Ryllie Danylko, Policy Analyst, on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery

May 26, 2021
Person Testifying: Ryllie Danylko
Title: Policy Analyst, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Committee of the Whole
Type of Hearing: Oversight Hearing
Topic of Testimony: Joint Public Oversight Hearing on The District’s Public Education System After the COVID-19 Pandemic

Good morning, Chairman Mendelson, Councilmember Allen, and Councilmember Gray and members of the Special Committee on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery and members of the Committee of the Whole. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Council today. My name is Ryllie Danylko. I am a policy analyst at DC Action, which uses research, data, and a racial equity lens to break down barriers that stand in the way of all kids reaching their full potential. Our collaborative advocacy initiatives bring the power of young people and all residents to raise their voices to create change. Through our signature coalition, the DC Out-of-School Time Coalition, we organize young people, their families, and the community organizations they rely on. We are also the home of DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource that tracks key indicators of child and youth well-being.

I am here to testify about the important role of out-of-school time (OST) programming in helping students recover from the social, emotional, mental, physical, and academic impacts of COVID-19, and in addressing learning gaps exacerbated by the pandemic.

The DC OST Coalition consists of more than 50 organizations that provide enriching activities for children and young people after school and in the summer. These programs offer a range of activities including tutoring, sports, music, arts, civic engagement, and more. They also provide a safe space for youth to spend their out-of-school time exploring their interests, socializing with friends, and receiving support from trusted and caring adults. The youth who participate in locally funded OST programs are overwhelmingly Black (79%) and Latinx (17%). These programs also provide peace of mind to working parents as they balance their jobs and caring for their children. The experiences that students have in OST programs are exactly what children and young people need most right now after a turbulent year.

To reach the Council’s goal of ensuring students’ “mental and physical health needs are adequately met, in particular for students who experienced severe trauma and delayed necessary health visits during the pandemic,” it’s crucial that OST programs are available to every student in the District. This is not the case right now. A recent report from the Afterschool Alliance found that for every child in DC enrolled in an OST program, one more is waiting to get in.

It is also critical that programs have all the resources they need to serve their current participants and expand to reach young people who, due to various barriers, are not currently part of an OST program. To rectify these issues and create a post-Covid scenario where programs can best serve young people, the coalition has several recommendations for the Committee to consider.

The District should look to OST to support not only academic recovery, but also the social, emotional, mental, and physical health of young people. OST programs already work to close education gaps by providing tutoring, homework help, and literacy programming, and many increased their efforts during the pandemic. These organizations continue to offer educational components as we shift the focus to recovery and making up for missed learning time, with some organizations potentially serving as hubs for the District’s high-impact tutoring initiative. But more important than addressing learning loss is the work that OST has been doing to nurture students’ social and emotional health. For many young people, their OST program is a haven for processing trauma related to gun violence, racial injustice, and the pandemic, all of which have taken a toll on young people’s mental and emotional well-being in the past year. To create a safe pathway out of the pandemic, DC students and parents will continue to lean on OST for these crucial support services. The District must invest energy and resources into preserving OST programs and making them available to every young person.

One way to help students connect with these safe spaces after school and in the summer is through school partnerships with OST programs. Many programs in our coalition have partnerships with DCPS and public charter schools that enable both entities to work together toward the common goal of helping young people reach their full potential. As schools make plans to re-open for full in-person learning in the fall, OST partners should have ample opportunity for input on these plans so we can develop receive clear guidance with from LEAs on timelines and requirements and receive opportunities for input on these plans, which have a direct impact on the ability of OST programs to serve students.

Since OST programs continue to serve as a trusted bridge between many families and schools, the OST community has information and knowledge about student needs that can help inform school leaders’ plans – even at an operations level – about reopening, and how to best serve students. For example, some of our providers have heard from parents that they feel reluctant to return to in-person school for various reasons, highlighting the need to prepare to serve students who will remain at home during the school year but still deserve to participate in their favorite activities, whether virtually or in person. Programs can also help re-enroll students who might have become disconnected from their school during the pandemic. As another example, programs which have strong relationships with students and their families have helped ensure their youth participants received access to the technology they needed during distance learning, helping close the digital divide.

To achieve the goal of providing high-quality summer and afterschool opportunities for every young person in DC, the District needs to invest more in OST. With new staffing ratios, and a need to prepare for COVID safe learning environments in the future, programs need increased funding for capacity building to be able to meet the needs of families, as well as prevent a drop in the number of students they were serving before the pandemic. Public funding for OST programs already has the approval of nearly 90% of District parents polled by the Afterschool Alliance. On June 3, DC Action and the OST Coalition will delve more deeply into the funding needs for OST programs and why the District should direct more resources to OST.

The pandemic is not yet over, yet conversations about going back to normal are common. We know the normal that many of DC’s young people experienced before the pandemic was unacceptable, as the pandemics of racism, poverty, and gun violence negatively impacted the lives of youth across the District. OST has been a lifeline for children and families pre-COVID, and will continue to be as we near what is hopefully the end of the public health emergency. OST works, and the District should look to the OST community as a partner in shaping the future of education, and beyond, for DC’s youth.

Thank you for your time and consideration. If you have any questions or matters you like to discuss I can be reached at the contact information below.