What value do parents, teachers and out-of-school-time (OST) staff place on OST programs? And what role do these programs play in young people’s learning and development beyond simply filling in the time when children are not in school?
Recently released research from Learning Heroes—a national organization that seeks to inform parents and equip them with the means to best support their children’s academic and developmental success—delves into these questions and much more. We spoke to David Park, senior vice president for communications and strategy at Learning Heroes, to find out more about the research and a playbook for the field that the organization developed based on the findings.
The Wallace Foundation: Why did Learning Heroes conduct this research?
David Park: We know that learning happens everywhere—in the classroom for sure, but also at home and in the community. And wherever learning takes place, it’s important that it’s connected, and that families can team up not only with their child’s teacher but with out-of-school-time providers as well. It’s also critical that schools and OST providers are connected in service of a child’s learning and development. We like to think of this as a web of support.
By listening to parents, teachers and OST providers, we can better understand how these audiences perceive the role of OST programs in children’s social, emotional and academic development and ultimately strengthen this web of support through enhanced communications, programs and policies.
WF: Can you give an overview of your survey findings? What are some of the key conclusions from your research?
DP: The survey found that parents, teachers and providers all view OST programs as offering a child-centered experience that is highly valuable and differentiated from classroom learning. We see this in the reasons parents say they enroll their child in these programs: to expose them to new ideas, experiences and perspectives, and help them find their passion, purpose and voice. Practitioners can use this information to help shape their programs and communicate about them in a way that resonates with families.
We also found that while there is tremendous demand for OST programs, participation in high-quality opportunities is not always equitably distributed, primarily due to considerations including cost, transportation and time. We believe district administrators can use this research, particularly data on the value parents see in OST programs, to address issues of access and secure funding for high-quality programs that reach all families.
While there are many more interesting findings and insights, one thing I thought was particularly compelling is the language parents use to describe OST programs. An example is the term I’m using now—“out-of-school-time” or “OST”. While we use this term in the field, parents are unfamiliar with it, and certainly don’t use it to describe the programs their children are engaged in. “Extracurricular” is the term parents use most often.
WF: What survey answers surprised you the most?
DP: There were several surprises. One thing that stood out to me was how valuable educators found OST programs. More than 7 in 10 teachers (72 percent) agreed that these programs exposed children to new experiences, ideas and perspectives beyond their everyday home and school lives, and nearly 7 in 10 (69 percent) agreed these programs motivated children to get excited about learning, even those who aren’t doing particularly well in school.
Given educators’ views on OST programs, coupled with the fact that families often get information about OST programs from schools, program providers may want to consider connecting with teachers to help promote the value of OST programs.
WF: Can you describe some of the afterschool activities included in the survey? And how do parents assess quality?
DP: The survey found that 65 percent of parents have children in an OST program, enrolling their children in an average of two programs per family. The most popular category is Sports/Arts/Interest, followed by School/Academic, Youth Development and Opportunity Centered. As parents assess quality, they look at indicators including their child’s happiness (83 percent), their child gaining confidence (79 percent) and their child developing social and emotional skills (77 percent).
WF: How did the Covid 19 pandemic affect your research? During lockdown, what were parents’ main concerns for their children?
DP: As we all know, the pandemic took a huge toll on families. The survey was fielded a year into the pandemic (in February/March 2021), and perhaps not surprising, children missing out on social connections and friendships topped the list of parent concerns, followed by kids having too much screen time, and losing motivation and interest to learn (which was particularly concerning to African American parents).
WF: Learning Heroes has produced a playbook for OST providers, teachers and others, based on the survey results. Why do you think the playbook is needed?
DP: We always try to make our research as actionable as possible, and that’s why we created the playbook. It can help educators, providers and advocates communicate the value of OST programs, inform the design of high-quality programs and shape policies that make these opportunities equitably accessible to all children. The playbook provides several specific ways the research can be used and includes tools and resources such as the research deck, a messaging guidance document, an animated video, social media infographics and more.
WF: Do you think this research and playbook will help make the case for more funding for OST programs?
DP: The research clearly highlights the value of OST programs, and underscores the need for families, schools and OST programs to partner in support of children’s learning and development. With ESSER [the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which is part of the federal American Rescue Plan Act] funding available, we believe there is a unique opportunity to secure resources for ongoing partnerships between schools and OST providers and more equitable access to high-quality programs.