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Out-of-School Takes Center Stage

February 13, 2013

By Marsha L. Semmel
Director of Strategic Partnerships, IMLS

“This is a Sputnik moment!” announced Jill Riemer to the crowd of 500 at Washington D.C.’s National Press Club on the morning of February 5. Ms. Riemer, executive director of the Georgia Afterschool Investment Council, made her bold statement on the occasion of the publication of Expanding Minds and Opportunities: The Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning for Student Success. At almost 450 pages, “this powerful collection of nearly 70 articles presents bold and persuasive evidence—as well as examples of effective practices, programs and partnerships—that demonstrate how opportunities after school and during the summer are yielding positive outcomes for authentic student, community and family engagement in learning.” (Expanded Learning and Afterschool Project)

Photo courtesy of The Expanded Learning and Afterschool Project

The volume, edited by Terry K. Peterson, Ph.D., current senior fellow at the College of Charleston and chair of the national board of the Afterschool Alliance, is available online and was published by the Expanded Learning and Afterschool Project, a great resource for research, resources, and best practices for building affordable and sustainable approaches to expanding learning in your community. The publication was made possible with support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, a leader in promoting and supporting quality afterschool programs.

A Proven Difference In Academic Achievement
Why a Sputnik moment? Because the power and importance of out-of-school learning is no longer a peripheral idea. Quality learning in out-of-school settings, which include libraries and museums, makes a proven difference in academic achievement, work, and life. The book’s introduction declares, “[W]e can boldly state that there is now a solid base of research and best practices clearly showing that quality afterschool and summer learning programs make a positive difference for students, families, schools, and communities.”

In fact, according to Peterson, there is pent up, and unmet, demand across the country, especially among low-income families, for more of these quality programs. Master of ceremonies at the Press Club event, Jim Kohlmoos, executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education, called this segment of the educational infrastructure “the ultimate leveraging program.” St. Paul, Minnesota mayor Christopher Coleman, who has made strengthening the city’s afterschool network a top priority, sees a direct link to economic development and growth. “All roads to [solving] every community challenge lead to education,” he said.

Deborah Lowe Vandell, founding dean of the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine, described a significant and growing body of research providing clear evidence that these out-of-school programs have positive impact on skill building, including literacy, work habits, persistence, and academic achievement; that the youth who stand to benefit the most from quality afterschool and summer offerings are low-income children and ESL students; and that positive academic effects occur from many “different-from-school” activities (including sports, the arts, cooking, etc.) that children pursue based on their interests and passions.

Challenges Remain
Even as they cheered the publication, speakers cited important priorities for the future, including shared data systems and training in their most effective use, community-wide approaches that strengthen the sector’s infrastructure and broaden access, more funding, more research, authentic and ongoing parental engagement strategies, more effective leveraging of digital technologies, and professional development.

Find Out More
We left the room buoyed by this impressive validation of the informal learning infrastructure, the recognition of our respective roles in advancing learning, and the potential of what is possible! Visit The Expanded Learning and Afterschool Project website to browse the publication, view a webcast of the launch event, and share your thoughts.