By DR. HELEN WANG
American parents work 2,000 hours per year, but their children are in school for only 1,000 hours. So after-school and summer time is half of K-12 education. This out-of-school-time has been painful for parents.
A 2016 report by the Center for American Progress suggests “misaligned school schedules cost the U.S. economy $55 billion in lost productivity annually: First, they result in lower levels of full-time employment among women with elementary-school-age children… Second, the economy loses productivity due to school closings. When school is closed, many parents have to take time off from work in order to care for their children. When parents simply can’t miss work to be there after school or on a staff training day, some children are left unsupervised. This puts them at an increased risk for sedentary screen time, poor food choices and high-risk social behavior.”
A decade of research and evaluation studies, as well as large-scale, rigorously conducted syntheses looking across many research and evaluation studies, confirms that children and youth who participate in after-school programs can reap a host of positive benefits in a number of interrelated outcome areas — academic, social/emotional, prevention, and health and wellness.
A robust and quality after-school program not only offers extended care and homework help, it should also provide enrichment. Some pioneering schools have brought incredibly creative, fun, and engaging after-school enrichment classes to their students right on campus where students already are.
For example, children can access leading-edge technologies; learn 3D modeling and printing; perform creative storytelling using virtual reality; build their confidence and public speaking skills through theater performances; gain engineering skills and foster creativity from traditional carpentry; learn cooking and sewing; master modern, digital-age engineering like Minecraft programming and robot building; learn life lessons and build character from martial arts, board games, and sports; be immersed in music and art; learn dance moves from classical to tap dancing to break dancing; re-walk the history and its impact on technical inventions from the journey of Marco Polo or WWII; and more!
Why wouldn’t any school want such vibrant after-school enrichment programs? Surely the schools that provide such access give their children more learning opportunities and advantages.
The key hurdles are the complexity of the operations for staffing and curriculum design and the cost of affording these enrichment classes. Indeed, this is an area where we have seen a significant equity gap. Affluent schools and families can afford these enrichment classes, but underprivileged ones cannot. From 6crickets’ school research work, we estimate 70% of American schools do not have any enrichment classes offered. With as many as 1,000 hours per year of no school and no parents for many students, this is a key contributing factor to the student achievement gap.
Nevertheless, we have seen a beautiful approach emerging from some pioneering schools and districts, such as Worthington Schools (Ohio), Del Mar Union School District (San Diego), Yu Ming Charter School (San Francisco Bay Area), and Green Lake Elementary (Seattle). To reduce the complexity of operations, these schools tap into local education businesses and invite expert teachers to teach after-school enrichment classes right on school campus where students are. This approach creates a win-win-win ecosystem for the local community. Schools win because they no longer need to worry about staffing and curriculum design, but safely outsource them to the topic experts. It boosts education businesses and strengthens the local economy. Families and students win when the best enrichment is brought to them right at school.
To help bridge the equity gap, we see a creative approach from these pioneering schools and districts: schools or districts receive revenue through the management process of after-school enrichment, which can in turn be budgeted for scholarships to support underprivileged students to also access enrichment. This is a particularly effective self-sustaining model at the district level with a larger pool of families where revenue received throughout the district can be redistributed to families in need. Thanks to the support of the scholarships with this approach, Worthington Schools of Ohio has enabled twice as many students with free or reduced-priced lunch to attend summer camps.
To further simplify the overall management process, there are now software tools like 6crickets that target the exact after-school enrichment management scenario to significantly streamline operations with online registrations; parent reviews to ensure program quality organically; real-time rosters and attendance for districts, schools, and vendors respectively to ensure student safety; automatic payment to vendors to simplify billing; and revenue collection capabilities to create scholarships.
While the out-of-school-time problem of 1,000 hours per child per year may be daunting, it is exciting to see the innovative approaches taking place in our school communities. With these new ideas and technological advances, we can start bringing the best enrichment to our students today!
— Dr. Helen Wang received her Ph.D. in Computer Science from UC Berkeley in 2001 and B.S. in Computer Science from UT Austin in 1995. She co-founded 6crickets Inc. in 2014 with the passion and mission of bringing the best enrichment to every child, leveraging the power of technologies.