OST Programs Must Have Opportunity to Support Students During Pandemic

DC Action for Children logo

An Open Letter to DC Deputy Mayor of Education Paul Kihn

Representatives from DC Action and the DC Out-of-School Time Coalition met with  DME Paul Kihn on November 9 to discuss how to better engage out-of-school-time leaders in supporting students even when schools are closed. Following is our letter to Deputy Mayor Kihn illustrating the value of OST programs and outlining our hopes for future collaboration. 

Dear Deputy Mayor Kihn,

Thank you again for meeting with the Out of School Time Coalition core team on Monday, November 9. We appreciate you taking the time to speak with us, hear directly from providers about their concerns, and exchange ideas for how we can meet current challenges together. With the recent announcement that DC Public Schools will not reopen this term, we want to take this opportunity to encourage you and the Chancellor's office to begin discussions with the OST community about how OST programs can support our students during the pandemic. We are confident that a more collaborative relationship between DCPS and OST programs will better meet the needs of DC youth in this challenging time.

The OST community is diverse. Some programs are able to provide safe, modified in-person programming opportunities at their own facilities or outdoors. Others, either because they do not have access to DCPS facilities, or because of health and safety concerns, exclusively offer virtual learning. To help illustrate the diversity of the community, and how DC’s OST providers are adapting and continuing to meet the needs of families and students, we’ve shared specific examples here. 

  • After-School All-Stars pivoted from operating out of six schools to an all virtual program with a focus on stabilizing communities. In spring 2020 ASAS added three additional weeks to its program to support families in the toughest moments of the COVID lockdown, offering not only traditional content, but also safe spaces to talk about loneliness, death and sickness, lack of food and money, having to move, isolation, and fears for the future, especially after the murder of George Floyd. ASAS distributed $40,000 in Safeway gift cards to Ward 7 and 8 families to help them get through the economic downturn that affected the poorest population most.

    ASAS reopened virtual programming in early September and grew its enrollment to three times what it was in the spring. ASAS is actively addressing the digital divide in two ways: 1) buying and distributing computers to students most in need so students are able to participate in virtual school, and 2) by offering internet support to its part-time staff, keeping them employed, and extending their benefits. ASAS is securing additional food stability funds to continue to support basic food needs for its families. 
     

  • DC SCORES served 2,700 children via virtual, live, and asynchronous programming over the spring and summer, and this fall is serving 800 kids in a more intensive virtual adaptation of its traditional soccer and poetry programming. DC SCORES adapted both its curricula and coach training for the current environment, adding a celebrity guest speaker series and providing best practices in virtual coaching guidance to coaches. These adaptations incorporated extensive feedback from families and coaches that DC SCORES solicited at the end of summer. In addition to online program elements, all registered DC SCORES participants received a free poet-athlete kit in the mail, stuffed with everything they needed to participate from home: jersey, soccer ball and pump, cones, crayons or pencils, poetry workbook, face masks, hand sanitizer, and more.
     
  • Higher Achievement has served middle school students in DC for 45 years as an afterschool academic enrichment and mentoring program. Prior to COVID-19, Higher Achievement was a school-based program working in 6 DC public schools across the city, offering 3 to 4 evenings per week of programming to 400 students. During distance learning, Higher Achievement is delivering 100% virtual programming for its six partner schools, and has capacity to serve many more middle school students in need of academic tutoring, mentoring from trained adult volunteers, and youth development-based social emotional support and structured peer connection.

    Higher Achievement also has demonstrated success in delivering virtual academic programming during the summer. During summer 2020, Higher Achievement partnered with Prince George’s County Public Schools to run a 4-week virtual summer enrichment program serving 120 students from four Title 1 schools across the county. Students participated in two classes per week--one 75-minute math class and one 75-minute English language arts class with live instruction by Higher Achievement teachers. Higher Achievement can provide a written assessment from an independent evaluator about the strengths and areas of opportunity for this type of virtual academic enrichment model.
     

  • Jubilee Youth Services adapted its afterschool programs to a day program and a virtual afterschool program. Since October 5, students in grades K-12 have been attending programs two days per week, in small cohorts. Students receive access to a computer, high speed internet, headphones, school materials, snack and lunch, and opportunity for outdoor play. Each student has been paired with an individual tutor through the American University DC Reads program and receives tutoring at least once a week. 

    In addition to the in-person learning hub, Jubilee Youth Services offers afterschool virtual programming that includes activities such as music and art classes, STEAM, social-emotional learning, physical activity, and financial literacy. JYS also offers quarterly workshops to parents on topics parents have expressed interest in.
     

  • Sitar Arts Center typically reaches more than 900 students of all ages each year, with year-round, out-of-school time programming and workforce development. When the pandemic forced DC to close school doors, Sitar conducted surveys, virtual town halls with students and parents, and phone interviews to understand what its 300 families and students most want and need. The top responses: continued arts learning, socioemotional support, and community connection. Teens requested to meet virtually more frequently with one another to create art, socialize, and talk to their mentors. Two weeks later, Sitar opened its virtual doors.

    In the past nine months, more than 250 school-aged students engaged in daily, full-day Camp Sitar Online and created a virtual summer musical, teens engaged in summer workforce development, and kids and teens participated in daily afterschool arts classes in the spring and fall. Sitar provides all program supplies for each enrolled student, musical instruments for those enrolled in the musical instrument academy, as well as iPads and technical support to any family that needs it for virtual learning. In response to COVID-19 trauma, Sitar has developed a therapeutic arts program and in response to potential learning loss, added daily homework help. Partnership classes continue with the Washington Ballet, Young Playwrights Theater, DC Jazz Festival, and other organizations.

With school reopening paused, and uncertainty about when schools will resume in-person learning due to increasing COVID-19 cases, now is the right time to bring the OST community to the table so we can work together to best support families and students during virtual learning.  We kindly request a follow-up conversation with your office and Chancellor Ferebee to discuss the following topics: 

  • How OST providers can support DCPS in getting Cares classrooms up and running and how OST providers can more easily collaborate with DCPS.
     
  • The metrics that DCPS will use to determine how and when to reopen schools, and whether there will be separate metrics for when facilities can be opened to OST programs that would like to operate out of DCPS.
     
  • How OST programs can better support DCPS students during virtual learning to increase active student participation in school day and afterschool activities. For example, during professional development Wednesdays, OST programs could step in to offer extra programming to keep students engaged, or by offering students attendance incentives when they attend both day-time classes as well as after-school enrichment programs. 

By strengthening the relationship between DCPS and OST providers, we can better support students who need it most. For example by connecting families in crisis with resources, including immigrant families that are particularly vulnerable in this environment and students who may not return for in-person learning either until the pandemic is over, or at all. This is a particular risk for older students. By providing continuous virtual learning that can be leveraged, with academic support and enrichment, to keep these young people on a successful track, OST programs can help ensure these students do not slip through the cracks

On behalf of the DC Out of School Time coalition, we wanted to share these stories with you about how programs are working to meet the needs of families and youth during the pandemic, and offer some concrete areas for where we could work together as we figure out how to move forward. We hope to schedule a meeting with you and your team soon. 

Sincerely, 

Kimberly Perry

Executive Director

DC Action for Children, on behalf of the DC Out-of-School Time Coalition