Helping Students, Schools and Families Catch-Up and Accelerate Learning in Summers and Afterschool (Part II)

Helping Students

To recover from all the learning losses and dislocations caused by Covid-19, we need to greatly expand the afterschool and summer programs that survived and restart and launch new quality summer opportunities in 2021 and 2022, and afterschool opportunities in the 2021-22 school year and beyond. To make this almost quantum leap forward in summer and afterschool expansion, key state and local leaders should analyze how to create incentives, strengthen family-school community partnerships, increase funding, and reduce barriers for these crucial opportunities. The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act that was signed into law on December 27, 2020, includes several funding opportunities that can significantly support afterschool and summer learning programs in 2021 and 2022.


How do we know summers can help?


A committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently examined and found summertime experiences to be especially important for children and youth in four domains of well-being:

• Academic learning

• Social and emotional development

• Physical and mental health

• Safety


Their conclusions were made before the Covid-19 crisis, but they are especially relevant in dealing with the recovery. They concluded that summers offer a time for families and public and private stakeholders to close gaps in developmental (and learning) outcomes and to ensure that all youth have access to experiences and settings that support their needs, ...including nutrition and safety.


Research shows that summer experiences can positively affect academic, health, social and emotional, and safety outcomes for children and youth, with those in disadvantaged communities at risk for worse outcomes.


Source: National Summer Learning Association’s Overview Updated PowerPoint


Summer Learning Key Features


As local and state decision-makers and education and community leaders plan now for this summer’s learning opportunities, to make a positive difference in an education recovery strategy, they should include the following program elements, focus areas, and engaging design:


Program elements from the Wallace National Summer Learning pilot programs:

• Voluntary, full-day programming that included academic instruction and enrichment activities (the latter mainly provided by community partners) for five days per week for no less than five weeks of the summer:

• At least three hours of (engaging and inspiring) language arts and mathematics instruction per day provided by a certified teacher. 

• Small class sizes of no more than 15 students per instructor • No fees to families for participation • Free transportation and meals.


*Learning from Summer: Effects of Voluntary Summer learning programs.(2016) Rand Corporation


Key areas to focus from Summer Matters pilot programs elements of high-quality summer learning.

● Broadens kids’ horizons.

● Includes a wide variety of activities.

● Helps kids build skills

● Fosters cooperative learning

● Promotes healthy habits

● Lasts at least one month.


*Summer Matters Campaign. Definition of high-quality summer learning programs. Campaign operated from 2010-2015.


Well-designed and delivered critical ingredients that help make up for “learning slides,” rebuild connections, support families, and increase access to inspiring education content, community mentors and teachers:

• Employ a mix of staff connected to the local community and schools including classroom teachers and community teachers, tutors, and volunteers.

• Encourage engaging learning in literacy, math, STEAM/STEM, by enthusiastic teachers and with community, cultural, college, STEM/STEAM organizations

• Include active, enrichment experiences, such as in the arts and sports, coding and robotic clubs, career internships, service-learning and college and workforce exploration. 

• Use more engaging and blended approaches deploying hands-on projects, social-emotional learning, arts integration, and family involvement.

• Provide adult supervision so parents can work enough hours or look for jobs.

• Offer wellness activities and address food access.


*Highlights summarized from a composite of articles in Peterson, T.K. (Executive Editor), Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the power of Afterschool and Summer Learning for Student Success, 4 th Edition, 2017.


How can afterschool opportunities make a major contribution to the needed Covid-19 learning and childcare recovery?


A growing body of research shows that regularly participating students in quality afterschool opportunities develop essential skills, such as:

• Improved grades and work habits,

• More homework completed on time,

• Often gains in test scores on which the program focuses,

• Self-control and confidence gains,

• Improved school day attendance and behavior, and

• Less risky behaviors, such as tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol use.

• Greater readiness for the workforce, careers and 2-4-year colleges.


The Afterschool Alliance has many research and survey studies that document the benefits of regular afterschool participation. For a quick summery, see:


Expanding learning supports afterschool with adult supervision and engaging students in more hands-on and enrichment opportunities can make a significant positive difference for students and families to recover from the many education and economic disruptions from Covid-19. 


For example, shown below is an important meta-analysis, a study of 41 studies, of afterschool programs that found that quality, well organized programs boosted student performance over a control group. These percentile gains in five important areas of student growth were significant and very meaningful:

• Improved Attendance

• Positive Social Behaviors

• Reduction in Problem Behaviors

• School Grades

• Test Scores


High quality afterschool programs are proven to accelerate student achievement and development

Durlak & Weissberg, Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning. Expanding Minds, p. 196


Very new research is also showing impressive long-term effects of organized afterschool activities in elementary school on adults much later (age 26) in their educational attainment. Shown below this better path starts with participation in organized afterschool activities in grades K-5 and in middle grades which then later contribute to better academic grades and more rigorous course taken in high school and then at age 26 leading to greater adult educational and occupational attainment.


*Source: Vandell, D.L., Simpkins, S. D., Liu, Y. (2020) Early Care and Education and Organized Afterschool Activities: Pathways to Adult Educational Attainment


In summary, afterschool and summer opportunities and partnerships are going to be essential to the recovery from the many learning and family disruptions caused by Covid-19 and for providing care and supervision for school-age children. However, many more of these opportunities will be critically needed in every community and every state starting in 2021 and 2022. Starting now and into early 2021, many local and state educators and decision-makers will need to start planning the programs, budgets, and partnerships for the summer of 2021 and the 2021-22 school year.


Many afterschool and summer programs took a severe hit in funding and support during the pandemic. Yet, many reimagined how they could support children, youth, and families virtually and even with some in-person activities. These efforts included meal and creative lesson drop-offs, personal telephone, and email messages to stay connected to students and families, and in some instances, there were also home visits and technology support services. Policy, regulatory, and funding improvements can activate and expand the tremendous assets of afterschool and summer programs, staff, and school-community partnerships across Alabama to help address the massive recovery needed after the pandemic in the summers of 2021 and 2022 and in afterschool next school year and beyond.

Dr. Peterson
Dr. Simpson
Dr.Terry Peterson, Ph.D., has helped lead major state and national education initiatives ranging from better early childhood education, career and college pathways and reading improvement to more afterschool and summer learning, arts learning, technology, and AP access. He currently is the Senior Fellow at the Riley Institute, Chief Counselor to former Governor and US Secretary of Education Dick Riley and Co-Chair of the National Board of the Afterschool Alliance. His book Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning for Student Success is in its fourth printing.
Felicia Simpson, Ed.S., has extensive experience in educational leadership, establishing before/afterschool and summer learning programs, and working with district superintendents and non-profits across Alabama. In addition, she has worked to generate creative and innovative funding for before/afterschool and summer learning, establish and maintain community partnerships, and lead policy and advocacy initiatives. She currently serves as a member of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Excellence in STEM, the Business Council of Alabama’s (BCA) Education and Workforce Development Committee and the Alabama Afterschool Community Network (ALACN) Lead for the State of Alabama.
Planning for success