After-School Programs

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After-School Programs

Offered at schools and community sites throughout the country, after-school programs have been used for years as a means to provide a safe place for children when many parents are at work and unable to provide supervision.

Backed by research that shows the hours from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. are a peak time for students to engage in dangerous, illicit, and delinquent behavior, these programs have been proven to not only reduce misbehavior, but to improve students’ motivation and attendance in school.

Offered at schools and community sites throughout the country, after-school programs have been used for years as a means to provide a safe place for children when many parents are at work and unable to provide supervision.

Backed by research that shows the hours from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. are a peak time for students to engage in dangerous, illicit, and delinquent behavior, these programs have been proven to not only reduce misbehavior, but to improve students’ motivation and attendance in school.

But today, many of these programs follow the beat of a different drummer, moving past what many considered a form of babysitting to provide offerings that complement the school day. The benefits can include enhancing students’ academic skills, fostering social-emotional development among peers, and providing opportunities for children to engage in new, hands-on learning experiences they can’t access elsewhere.

Debates over how best to staff, evaluate, and structure these programs exist, however, and the long-standing challenges with funding and sustainability that have burdened the after-school field for some time, prevail.

As more models to provide holistic education systems for students emerge, such as extended school day and community schools, the place of after-school programs in the future remains in flux.  Yet with recent estimates showing that more than 15 million children are unsupervised during out-of-school time, the need to keep students occupied and learning in these hours continues to be a significant need.

Financing After School

Today’s funding landscape for after-school programs is varied, with many programs relying on a combination of public and private funding sources to cover their costs. Even with this blend of money, programs tend to claim that resources, budgets, and staffing is tight, and the demand for program slots far exceeds what can be offered.

There is one pot of federal money earmarked specifically for out-of-school programming, however. Since 1998, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program has provided formula grants to states to redistribute to agencies, districts, and community organizations that provide academic enrichment opportunities to students in out-of-school hours.

In recent years, the grant funding has been available for a poader range of recipients, including schools that have extended the school day or year, though the focus on serving low-income students has remained constant.

The 21st Learning Center grants are typically not sufficient enough to cover all the costs programs incur, though, so many programs blend funding from public and private streams to stay afloat and match grants they receive. These sources can include school district funds, state funding, or community donations, to name a few.

A number of other federal funding streams, such as Title I dollars and the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) funding help support after-school as well, as do competitive/discretionary grant programs, such as Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative, which includes after-school programs as an allowable use of money. Additionally, some districts have used the federal funding for Supplementary Education Services under No Child Left Behind to support after-school programs. However, those tutoring services have been curtailed in most of the more than 30 states which have received ESEA waivers.

States also help finance out-of-school programs, with each state setting its own procedures and parameters for delegating funding to after-school programs and holding them accountable to delivering quality services. California, for example, has administered the After School Education and Safety Program (ASES) since 2002, which provides $550 million each year to support after-school and enrichment programming in the state.

On the private sector side, funders such as the Wallace Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, have helped support after-school programs in a variety of ways.

The Wallace Foundation, for example, has funded the establishment of locally-supported systems for after-school programs in cities throughout the country. New York City and Providence, R.I., are two such examples of systems where the local school district, the city government, and community organizations work in tandem to provide a well-oiled system for delivering after-school programming to students in their communities.

The Mott Foundation, based in Flint, Mich., supports the state networks for after-school, in addition to funding other initiatives in the out-of-school space. These networks help coordinate after-school programming throughout their respective states, such as financing, delivery, and evaluation of services, while providing professional development opportunities for after-school staff. Only six states do not have such a network, the foundation reports.

And the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation has funded research of and innovative learning opportunities in the out-of-school space, focused on digital and 21st century learning.

Community-based sites, like YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs also often house after-school programs and receive funds through a variety of means.


Similar to the funding landscape, while after-school programs can bear many similarities, the programming offered at after-school sites differs from one program to the next.

In recent years, as schools have been forced to cut their programs and offerings—such as arts, music, and physical education—from the school day, after-school programs have been pushed to make up for these losses and provide more enhanced curricula than ever before.

Most after-school programs offer a blend of components, such as homework assistance, hands-on enrichment like arts, and opportunities for exercise and play. They often target low-income students — though that is not always the case.

In addition, a number of districts are also using the time to enhance school-day learning by providing opportunities to reinforce academic skills, such as through science experiments or by teaching supplementary skills that can prove useful in school, such as digital learning. Enriching experiences like  field trips to museums or cultural sites or classes taught by guest speakers further these opportunities.

With all the learning taking place in after-school programs, there has also been a push for a means to give students credit or acknowledgment of skills and experiences students are gaining in out-of-school hours.

Digital Badges–or virtual records of skills and achievements or a sort of digital Girl Scout or Boy Scout patch– are one such example. In some after-school programs today, students are receiving these badges, bringing them back to their schools for acknowledgement, or even, in some cases, including them in their applications for college.

These opportunities for accreditation are especially useful for older students, who tend not to be the traditional target for after-school programs, but still need engaging learning opportunities and support/mentoring in their hours away from school.

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation, for example, is working on several initiatives that scale up the traditional notion of an after-school program for high school-age students, helping support and facilitate new hands-on, deeper learning opportunities through local out-of-school programming in collaboration with New England school districts.

Yet, even with the push for students to gain specific skills in after-school programs or offered unique opportunities, others in the out-of-school space believe these hours should be less structured. Some feel ample time should be provided for students to freely experiment and discover on their own or among peers, fostering the types of social-emotional learning opportunities that are often absent from the school day.


According to after-school stakeholders, the way to improve out-of-school programs is more about the staffing than the curricula offered.

Typically, after-school staff tend to be younger and work part time; some may have second jobs or attend school at the same time. For many programs, the ideal after-school staffer can identify and relate to the children enrolled in the program, helping to support and foster skills and experiences the children may not access during school. This can mean hiring staff who come from the neighborhoods the children themselves inhabit or have faced similar challenges when they were young.

There is growing pressure for after-school programs to improve the quality and quantity of the services. As a result, there is an increased focus on how to recruit, hire, and retain high-quality staff, and to provide the professional development necessary to keep the program in good standing.

In some cases, this has driven programs to seek out staff that is more similar to classroom teachers in terms of credentials, or have more education and/or experience working with youth so they can provide better academic support or teach students new skills.  In other communities, like Palm Beach, Fla., staff can obtain credentials or certificates through local higher education institutions that teach or further develop skills believed necessary for working with youth in out-of-school programs.

Other programs have made use of community resources for professional development, such the conferences held by state after-school networks or trainings provided by local cultural institutions. Given the costs, many are now also turning to an array of digital resources online, supported through national associations like the Afterschool Alliance or National AfterSchool Association, among others, that provide ideas for lessons and activities, manuals on necessary core competencies for staff, and recommendations for how to evaluate staff to ensure program quality is maintained.

These issues surrounding professional development and certification of after-school staff bring up other key areas for debate within the field. Among them:  “What outcomes are these programs aiming to achieve for youth?” and “Should these programs look more like the school day or remain distinct?”


Those questions are further hashed out in the evaluation space, as there is no standard evaluation criteria after-school programs adhere to universally.

After-school programs receiving 21st Century Learning Center funding must be regularly evaluated, for example, but there is flexibility in choice of method. States dictate their own criteria, and some districts also have individual or specific practices in place.

These measures are continuing to broaden, however.

There seems to be a growing consensus among after-school advocates about what constitutes high-quality academic enrichment and what types of components should be included in a program. However, how best to measure whether or not a program, the staff, and students themselves have been successful is challenging —especially when there can be disagreement about the goals of after-school programs.

Additionally, research has found that these programs can yield many positive outcomes, including improved academic performance, reduction in misbehavior, and better engagement/motivation in school. Still, what specifically makes one more program more successful than the next is up for debate. The impact of these programs also tends to be more potent if students attend for consecutive years, but ensuring this occurs is nearly impossible.

More and more after-school programs today are looking for cost-effective ways to self-evaluate using digital and other scalable resources as their guide. But to successfully use these methods, programs must be proactive about measuring impact and making changes to improve results.

Coupling tight resources with high demand/student need, self-evaluation and self-improvement efforts can be a secondary concern for after-school programs, especially when a consensus about ideal outcomes and ways to measure them is still undetermined.


75th EWA National Seminar
Orlando • July 24-26, 2022

National Seminar graphic

Celebrating 75 Years! 

As those in education and journalism work to recover from an extended pandemic, bringing together the community has never been more critical. The Education Writers Association’s 75th annual National Seminar will provide a long-awaited opportunity to gather in person for three days of training, networking, and inspiration. 


74th EWA National Seminar
Virtual, May 2-5, 2021

EWA 74th National Seminar  graphic

The Education Writers Association’s 74th National Seminar will focus on the theme of “Now What? Reporting on Education Amid Uncertainty.” Four afternoons of conversations, training and presentations will give attendees deeper understanding of these crises, as well as tools, skills and context to help them better serve their communities — and advance their careers. 

To be held May 2-5, 2021, the seminar will feature education newsmakers, including leaders, policy makers, researchers, practitioners and journalists. And it will offer practical data and other skills training. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Pandemic-Driven Disparities Seen in After-School Programs
As coronavirus wears on, what role will out-of-school providers play in meeting community needs?

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic is taking a disproportionate toll on the education of low-income students and people of color. Stories abound on the situation, especially when it comes to remote instruction and plans for school re-opening. But even after the school day ends, the disparities persist.


73rd EWA National Seminar

EWA’s National Seminar is the largest annual gathering of journalists on the education beat. 

This multi-day conference is designed to give participants the skills, understanding, and inspiration to improve their coverage of education at all levels. It also will deliver a lengthy list of story ideas. We will offer numerous sessions on important education issues, as well as on journalism skills.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Threatened But Still Standing: The Federal Program for After-School, Summer Learning
Despite Trump's attempts to eliminate it, bipartisan support persists

Three times, the Trump administration has tried to ax federal funding for after-school and summer learning programs, and three times Congress has responded by adding more money to the pot.

Most recently, the U.S. House, where Democrats hold a majority, approved a $100 million increase for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative—the primary source of federal funds for local after-school and summer learning programs. That line item, which stills needs approval from the Republican-led Senate, would primarily support activities during the 2020-21 school year.


72nd EWA National Seminar
Baltimore • May 6-8, 2019

EWA’s National Seminar is the largest annual gathering of journalists on the education beat. This year’s event in Baltimore, hosted by Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education, will explore an array of timely topics of interest to journalists from across the country, with a thematic focus on student success, safety, and well-being.

EWA Radio

Let’s Talk About Sex (Ed.)
How local politics are influencing public school programs, teen birth rates

The Central Valley is home to six of the 10 counties with the highest teen pregnancy rates in California. The same communities also have some of the highest rates of sexually transmitted disease. But as reporter Mackenzie Mays discovered by crunching the numbers in a new series for The Fresno Bee, those statistics vary widely by ZIP code, as does access to school-based health programs and services.


71st EWA National Seminar
Los Angeles • May 16-18, 2018

EWA 71st National Seminar Los Angeles graphic

EWA’s National Seminar is the largest annual gathering of journalists on the education beat. This multiday conference provides participants with top-notch training delivered through dozens of interactive sessions on covering education from early childhood through graduate school. Featuring prominent speakers, engaging campus visits, and plentiful networking opportunities, this must-attend conference provides participants with deeper understanding of the latest developments in education, a lengthy list of story ideas, and a toolbox of sharpened journalistic skills.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

How Should the Government Support Families?
Experts debate federal policies that support early care and learning

Government agencies give lip service to the importance of high-quality child care and early learning programs, but the patchwork system of tax breaks and government grants has too many gaps, causing many families to struggle with bills. And many communities have too few options for high-quality early learning opportunities. That was the consensus of a panel of experts who spoke at the Education Writers Association’s early childhood conference Nov. 6 and 7.

They debated however, the causes of and potential fixes to the problems – ranging from taxes to grants to privatization.

EWA Radio

‘Unprepared’ in Memphis: The Realities of College Readiness
EWA Radio: Episode 99

In a new series, Memphis Commercial Appeal reporter Jennifer Pignolet tells the story of Shelby County students working hard to make it to college — and to succeed once they arrive. And their challenges aren’t just financial: for some, like Darrius Isom of South Memphis, having reliable transportation to get to class on time is a game changer. And what are some of the in-school and extracurricular programs that students say are making a difference? Pignolet also looks at the the Tennessee Promise program, which provides free community college classes to qualified students, and assigns a mentor to help guide them. 

THANKSGIVING BONUS: EWA journalist members share some of the things they’re grateful for this year. 

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Programs Providing ‘Excelencia’ in Latino Education

The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Excelencia in Education has released its annual list of college programs and community groups that are effectively supporting the educational advancement of Latino students in higher education, or “Examples of ¡Excelencia!“ 

Here’s a look at this year’s honorees.

Pathway to the Baccalaureate Program, Northern Virginia Community College

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Where Students Miss the Most Class, and Why That’s a Problem

By woodleywonderworks [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

The precocious teen who’s too cool for school – earning high marks despite skipping class – is a pop-culture standard, the idealized version of an effortless youth for whom success comes easy.

Too bad it’s largely a work of fiction that belies a much harsher reality: Missing just two days a month of school for any reason exposes kids to a cascade of academic setbacks, from lower reading and math scores in the third grade to higher risks of dropping out of high school, research suggests.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

Back-to-School: You Need Stories, We’ve Got Ideas

The boys (and girls) are back in town. For class, that is.

See how forced that lede was? Back-to-school reporting can take on a similar tinge of predictability, with journalists wondering how an occasion as locked in as the changing of the seasons can be written about with the freshness of spring.

Recently some of the beat’s heavy hitters dished with EWA’s Emily Richmond about ways newsrooms can take advantage of the first week of school to tell important stories and cover overlooked issues.

EWA Radio

Why the ‘After-School Satan Club’ Is More than a Stunt
EWA Radio: Episode 84

(Flickr/Charles Rodstrom)

Why is an organization known as the Satanic Temple launching a national push to add after-school clubs in public elementary schools? And what does the group hope to accomplish when it comes to challenging perceived violations to the separation between church and state? Journalist Katherine Stewart, a contributing writer to The Washington Post, discusses her reporting on the controversy, which developed in response to the “Good News Clubs” — backed by a fundamentalist Christian organization — that have sprung up in thousands of elementary schools nationwide.

Stewart and EWA public editor Emily Richmond also discuss ideas for local reporters covering First Amendment and religious freedom issues in their own communities. 

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

D.C.-Area Latino Youth Programs Get Financial Boost

Source: Flickr via ||read|| (CC BY 2.0)

A community program working to reduce violence through soccer and an after-school robotics class serving Latino youth in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region have each received up to $50,000 in grants to aid their efforts from the Inter-American Development Bank.

Reporter Armando Trull provides insight into these two programs in a story for WAMU. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Shopping for Holiday Stories? Hit the Mall

The mall can be a goldmine of story ideas - and sources - for education reporters during the holiday weeks when schools are closed. (Flickr/AmandaB3

With most schools closed until after the New Year, the holidays can be a dry spell on the education beat. But there’s no shortage of ideas for creative reporters who are willing to venture into less-familiar territory.


U.S. GAO – K-12 Education: Federal Funding for and Characteristics of Public Schools with Extended Learning Time

The U.S. Department of Education primarily supports extended learning time for K-12 public schools through the School Improvement Grants program (SIG). The SIG program, with an average 3-year grant of $2.6 million, is the only Education program that provides funds specifically to establish extended learning time in schools, according to Education. Nearly 1,800 schools that received SIG funds (about 94 percent of SIG schools) were required to extend learning time under the SIG program for school years 2010-2011 through 2014-2015.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

CNN Debate Aside, Ed. Finds Way Into Presidential Race


Education didn’t exactly make a splash in this week’s Republican presidential debate — barely a ripple, actually — but the issue has gained considerable attention in the 2016 contest for the White House, from debates over the Common Core to proposals on higher education access and affordability.


69th EWA National Seminar

The Education Writers Association, the national professional organization for journalists who cover education, is thrilled to announce that its annual conference will take place from Sunday, May 1, through Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in the historic city of Boston.

Co-hosted by Boston University’s College of Communication and School of Education, EWA’s 69th National Seminar will examine a wide array of timely topics in education — from early childhood through career — while expanding and sharpening participants’ skills in reporting and storytelling.

Boston, Massachusetts

Growing Together, Learning Together

With many cities showing an interest in afterschool system building and research providing a growing body of useful information, this Wallace Perspective offers a digest of the latest thinking on how to build and sustain an afterschool system, and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for this promising work. The report (a follow-up to a 2008 Perspective) focuses on the four components of system building that the most current evidence and experience suggest are essential:


Growing Together, Learning Together
The Wallace Foundation

With many cities showing an interest in afterschool system building and research providing a growing body of useful information, this Wallace Perspective offers a digest of the latest thinking on how to build and sustain an afterschool system, and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for this promising work. The report (a follow-up to a 2008 Perspective) focuses on the four components of system building that the most current evidence and experience suggest are essential.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

White House School Arts Program Expands to D.C., New York

Yo-Yo Ma performs at the 2008 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos. He's one of several dozen artists affiliated with Turnaround Arts. (Source:
By World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

A program that pairs celebrities with struggling schools to develop their arts education is expanding to more large cities, The U.S. Department of Education announced today. 

Known as the Turnaround Arts initiative, the $10-million effort pools public and private funds to teach music, dance and other arts disciplines at schools that are considered among the worst in their respective states.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

After-School Programs: What Reporters Need to Know

Students work on an enrichment activity as part of the ChillZone after-school program in Lakewood, New Jersey. (Flickr/Kars4Kids/Creative Commons)

Education reporters spend plenty of time writing about what happens during the regular academic day – but what about the enrichment activities that can benefit students after hours? And how do those extra-curricular opportunities factor into an individual child’s long-term chances of success in school and beyond? 


Expanded Learning Time: A Summary of Findings from Case Studies in Four States
Center on Education Policy

Many low-performing schools across the nation have increased learning time in response to federal requirements for the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. The conditions governing federal waivers of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) also require certain schools to redesign the school day, week, or year to include additional time for student learning and teacher collaboration. Furthermore, the waivers allow greater flexibility to redirect certain federal funding streams toward increased learning time.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

School Districts Put Emphasis on Educating Parents

Adults meet at the English Club for English Language Learners at the Rockaway Township Free Public Library in New Jersey. 
Source: Flickr/RT Library (CC BY 2.0)

School districts in Texas’ Bexar County are offering more options for parents to further their education in order to get more involved in their children’s, including after-hours classes in learning English as a second language or preparing to a GED. 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

After-School Learning Advocates Hope Research Leads to More Federal Dollars

Learning doesn’t stop when the last bell of the day rings, but for most communities, money to support after-school activities is tight.

The largest federal grant program dedicated to learning outside of class – after school, before school and during summers – is roughly only $1.15 billion for the entire nation, for instance. The AfterSchool Alliance, an advocacy group, notes that of all the money spent on education outside of normal school hours, Uncle Sam only kicks in about a tenth. Parents, meanwhile, contribute three-quarters of the dollars spent in total.


The Wallace Foundation

The Wallace Foundation is a national philanthropy, based in New York City, that aims to improve the educational opportunities for disadvantaged students. The foundation has invested heavily in research and resources aimed at improving the positive effect principals can have on school and student performance. They have also put significant funding toward expanded learning, summer learning, and after-school.


Harvard Family Research Project

The Harvard Family Research Project’s mission is to shape 21st-century learning opportunities so that all children and youth thrive, with an emphasis on addressing issues of access and equity in learning, and advancing family and community engagement practices that reinforce success for all children.


New York State Afterschool Network

New York State Afterschool Network is a public-private partnership of statewide, regional, and local groups dedicated to promoting young people’s safety, learning, and healthy development outside the traditional classroom.


Partnership for Children and Youth

The Partnership for Children and Youth’s goal is to foster collaboration and build leadership among school districts, government agencies and community-based organizations serving low income children and youth, with an aim toward more opportunities for continuous learning.


Providence After School Alliance

The Providence After School Alliance’s mission is to expand and improve quality after-school, summer, and other expanded learning opportunities for the youth of Providence, R.I. by organizing a sustainable, public/private system that contributes to student success and serves as a national model.

Key Coverage

R.I. Students Gaining ‘Badges,’ Credits Outside School

Many schools encourage students to get real-world experience outside school walls. But very few offer course credit and digital “badges”—virtual records of skills and achievements—for those experiences.

Now, the Providence, R.I., school district is in the middle of an initiative that appears to be breaking new ground in giving academic credit and recognizing skills and achievements out of school.

Key Coverage

Rural After-School Efforts Must Stretch to Serve

One of three grants Linda Barton relies on to provide out-of-school programs to her students will run out this month.

With two other grants still in play, Ms. Barton is perhaps in a better situation than most such providers, but she’s trying to figure out how to maintain her existing programs in her Lander, Wyo., community until she can get more money.

“The funding is always a challenge,” she said.


The Nellie Mae Education Foundation

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation strives to reshape public education across New England to be more equitable and more effective—so every student graduates from high school ready to succeed in college or the workplace—and contribute to their communities as informed citizens.


The Wallace Foundation

The Wallace Foundation is a national philanthropy that seeks to improve learning and enrichment for disadvantaged children and foster the vitality of the arts for everyone. 


THINK Together

THINK (Teaching, Helping, Inspiring and Nurturing Kids) Together works to improve academic outcomes for children and youth living in under-resourced communities.