With the allocation of over $15 billion from the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ARPA/ESSER III) to Texas public education, including almost $3 billion for out-of-school time learning, we find it imperative that afterschool and summer programs in the Central Texas region receive the funding they need to continue providing and expanding learning recovery opportunities.
It is particularly important that this funding reaches the local schools and educational agencies that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially those communities in which the pandemic exacerbated pre-existing inequality. Due to the pandemic, many students–especially those of color and those living in low-income communities–are struggling with learning loss, social isolation, hunger, and mental health challenges. Students need to feel safe and supported to re-engage in learning, rebuild relationships, and emerge from this crisis strong, resilient, and hopeful; and we need whole community engagement to make this happen.
We need a comprehensive ecosystem of support to help youth and families recover, and out-of-school time learning is a vital component of that ecosystem. As well as adapting to additional health and safety measures to continue offering in-person care during the COVID-19 pandemic, out-of-school time staff are already helping youth recover academic, social, and emotional learning, and community-based organizations continue to connect families to critical services and resources such as food, technology, and healthcare.
An essential part of the daily economic, social, and emotional lives of our communities, out-of-school time learning programs are one evidence-based intervention that supports families by providing safe and engaging spaces for youth with working parents, and expands career pipelines for educators. Evidence-based interventions focused on social and emotional learning, such as the Andy Roddick Foundation’s Whatchamafeelit kit, are especially important during this period when students and families are trying to overcome post-pandemic mental, social, and emotional struggles.
That is why the Learn All the Time (LATT) Network supports using funds from the ARPA/ESSER III to initiate and support meaningful collaboration between community-based organizations and school districts. We must not only consider afterschool and summer programs as a complement to academic learning, but also see them as fundamental to whole child development, family stability, economic growth, and community development.
An initiative of the Andy Roddick Foundation, LATT serves as the hub for high-quality out-of-school time learning in our community, connecting program providers and other stakeholders around afterschool and summer workforce development, program quality improvement, and data collection and evaluation. LATT currently includes more than 30 out-of-school time learning providers working together to provide quality programming for over 57,000 youth across Central Texas. Whether it is creating summer camps centered around reading and writing practice, hosting afterschool virtual musical therapy, or modifying curricula to practice positivity and recovery from difficult situations, LATT Network members are showing the capabilities and importance of out-of-school time programming.
We find it imperative that afterschool and summer programs in Central Texas become part of a comprehensive local and regional strategy to help students and families recover from the pandemic and therefore receive the ARPA/ESSERIII investment required to ensure positive results and measurable outcomes. We must seize this opportunity to build something sustainable, communal and game-changing: a functioning and equitable ecosystem of support, both in and out of school.
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