Overwhelming data show that teachers are exhausted, with high levels of job-related stress sparked by the pandemic. A 2021 national survey asked teachers if they would be willing to consider a shorter summer break, if compensated for the additional work time, and only 19 percent said yes. Some districts saw record numbers of mid-year resignations during the 2021-22 school year, and in February, 55 percent of teachers said they’re more likely to leave or retire from education earlier due to the pandemic (up from 27 percent last August).
The challenges teachers are experiencing are significant, and a multitude of stakeholders and strategies must be leveraged to meet students where they are and address their needs, especially given the learning losses of the last two years.
Afterschool, summer, and other out-of-school time (OST) organizations can play a key role in promoting positive academic and social-emotional outcomes for children. They have the ability to react with agility to shifting student needs and changes in the landscape due to their position outside of the traditional school system. While the academic outcomes of these programs can be significant, the non-academic outcomes they support are also critical, particularly at a time when many students are feeling isolated and disengaged. Many OST organizations are stepping up to the plate to support students—as they have done long before Covid—and some have fostered deep partnerships with school districts nationwide to expand access to high-quality learning experiences. However, the pandemic has brought unprecedented pressures on the OST field as well, and many programs have had to close their doors due to the financial strains of the past two years.
A multitude of stakeholders and strategies must be leveraged to meet students where they are and address their needs, especially given the learning losses of the last two years.
This is why the ESSER funds, launched as a component of the American Rescue Plan Act in March 2021, are so important. Through the fund, $8.5 billion is available to states and districts to offer afterschool and summer programming that is either developed in-house or deployed in partnership with an OST program provider. Some of the strategies being employed include partnering with OST organizations, hiring external consultants to support students, and allocating resources to schools so they can conduct their own programming. Many districts are using a combination of these methods. However, recent data show that districts have by and large decreased the number and variety of offerings they’ll make available to students this summer compared to last year. To provide students with the most enriching summer and school year this fall, expanding district and school partnerships with OST organizations is key.
How school districts and OST organizations are working together
Overdeck Family Foundation’s Inspired Minds grantmaking portfolio focuses on OST STEM experiences rooted in joy and rigor. This year, our grantees are continuing to explore innovative approaches to partnerships by refining pre-existing strategies, launching new initiatives, and thinking critically about lessons from the past two years. The grantees highlighted below demonstrate what’s possible when OST programs and districts partner to support student achievement.
BellXcel supports educators and youth program providers to plan and facilitate programming, engage in professional development, measure outcomes, and effectively navigate the logistical aspects of student learning experiences. Their first-to-market SaaS platform, launched in 2021, offers a digital home for these resources and tools and has helped BellXcel expand their reach by 300 percent. BellXcel has secured partnerships ranging from large districts such as the New York Department of Education, Miami-Dade County Public Schools in FL, and Muscogee County School District in GA, to small and rural districts such as Toombs, GA, Dodgeland, WI and Ravenswood City, CA. The benefits of BellXcel programming extend into the classroom as well: last year, 87 percent of teachers said BellXcel training and curricula supported effective in-school math instruction.
In addition to schools, the BellXcel platform is used by community-based organizations, such as YMCA associations and Boys and Girls Clubs, for their youth programming. These organizations also benefit from BellXcel coaching on how to advance district learning recovery strategies in light of the pandemic.
In 2020, BEAM launched the Entry Points program in collaboration with Art of Problem Solving to provide elementary school students from low-income and historically marginalized communities with access to high-quality math enrichment, free of charge. Building on the success of the organization’s local programming in New York City and Los Angeles, the Entry Points program now works directly with school partners across the U.S. to provide both online programming for students and direct support to teachers who are implementing the program locally. In the 2021-22 school year, BEAM partnered with 13 schools across New York, California, Michigan, Tennessee, and New Mexico to implement Entry Points.
National Inventors Hall of Fame: Camp Invention
Even low dosage OST programs can have a big impact: Camp Invention, NIHF’s weeklong summer camp, inspires divergent thinking for students in grades K-6 and translates to gains on the MAP math assessment and increased school attendance for students who were previously at risk.
To support the more than 1,600 schools and districts they partner with, NIHF leverages a network of Regional Representatives based in those communities to address educator needs and support high-fidelity implementation. By partnering with the communities where Camp Invention and Club Invention take place, NIHF is better able to serve students and their families with approaches catered to their unique environments. This regional approach allows NIHF to not only address different local needs, but also learn from a wide array of partners and replicate best practices across similar contexts.
How we plan to support continued collaboration
Many OST organizations have found ways to collaborate effectively with individual schools, like BEAM, or pursue district-wide partnerships, like BellXcel. They support learning during the school day, work with students after school and during the summer, and provide self-driven opportunities for students and families to pursue their own learning journey on their own schedule. Flexible, creative approaches from OST organizations can go a long way in not only improving student outcomes, but also in supporting educators in their professional development and giving them enhanced insights into their students’ progress. This is why we provide innovation funding to OST organizations.
In addition to funding organizations working directly with students, we also support the OST ecosystem with grants that help clear the path to scale and enhance program quality through research and field building.
A recent report on supporting high-quality summer experiences calls for additional research on “the facilitators and barriers to effective partnership” between districts and OST organizations. One ecosystem project we hope will surface findings in this space is our recently launched partnership with RAND to conduct a research study to surface insights on principal and superintendent decision-making concerning OST STEM partners. A series of surveys and phone interviews will generate important insights around decision-makers’ priorities when evaluating potential OST STEM partnerships, how such partnerships are formed, what they look like when they’re effective, and how decisions are made concerning their expansion, renewal, or exit. We hope the findings from this project help OST STEM organizations, schools, and districts partner more effectively and expand access to high-quality programming. We plan to host a webinar in the late spring or early summer of 2023, with a report released later in the summer.
Now and into the future, we encourage other philanthropic organizations working in education to join us in funding OST organizations. As many in education have touted for decades, it takes a village to raise a child. OST organizations are a vital part of this village, but they need support to do their work effectively. Schools and districts can use a helping hand at this time, and collaborations between them and OST organizations have the potential to improve student outcomes, diversify the number of options available to students and their families, and provide a more comprehensive and consistent learning experience for students throughout the entire calendar year.
Thank you to Gemma Lenowitz and Brittany Sullivan for your contributions to this post.
Header image courtesy of BellXcel