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Why We Fund Afterschool STEM at Overdeck Family Foundation
Posted on Tuesday, December 7th, 2021 by Uchenna Ezibe
Even before the pandemic, NAEP scores for students saw unprecedented declines. From 2012 to 2020, math scores fell five points for fourth grade girls and all eighth graders. Science scores fell by two points for fourth graders between 2015 and 2020, and while they remained flat for eighth and twelfth graders, the gap between the highest-performing and lowest-performing students widened. The pandemic has exacerbated these trends: research shows that the effects of the Covid slide are more pronounced in math than in reading. Additionally, the lack of in-person schooling has not only led to skill loss for students, but reduced social-emotional outcomes as well.
Afterschool science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programming plays a unique role in promoting academic outcomes, supporting social-emotional development, and leveraging the home and community environments as places for extended learning. High-quality afterschool STEM programming has a host of benefits for students:
- Students that participate in intensive afterschool STEM programs earn higher test scores in math and science, take more math and science courses, and have higher rates of high school graduation.
- Students in afterschool programs have improved homework completion rates, classroom attendance rates, and behavior, as well as increased interest in and knowledge of STEM careers.
- Afterschool STEM can improve student STEM motivation and engagement, perseverance and critical thinking skills, science identity, and attitudes towards STEM.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the afterschool STEM field, however, and the organizations providing these programs have been faced with many challenges. Afterschool organizations have had to make rapid pivots to digital models, workforce shortages are widespread throughout the sector, and a survey of afterschool programs showed that long-term funding was the number one concern (82 percent of respondents). And despite increased demand among students and families for high-quality afterschool programming, only 10 percent of the nation’s students are enrolled; for every child enrolled in a program there are three waiting for access. For low-income families, cost was the number one cited barrier to afterschool participation.
We believe that all students should have access to afterschool programming that is rigorous, engaging, and affordable, and leads to great academic and social-emotional outcomes.
Why Overdeck Family Foundation funds afterschool STEM
Right now, philanthropic support is essential in order to equip organizations with the resources needed to provide high-quality afterschool STEM education at a price point that doesn’t bar low-income families from participating. Additionally, foundations can often play an important role in giving organizations the flexibility needed to refine program models, design new prototypes, conduct research and evaluation, and build evidence of impact, leading to a better understanding of what does and doesn’t move the needle for students. In many cases, these things can also set up organizations for increased opportunities to grow and scale, allowing them to reach more students than before. Outside of monetary support, philanthropy can also offer non-monetary and strategic assistance, including connections to additional funders and a field-wide perspective that can provide unique learnings and viewpoints to their grant partners.
Despite an increase in the percentage of afterschool programs offering STEM in recent years, research shows that new opportunities were unevenly distributed: the number of children from low-income households participating in afterschool programs fell by 1.9 million from 2014 to 2020, while the number of children from higher income households only fell by 450,000 during the same period. Notably, afterschool programming is more expensive when it includes STEM: in 2020 parents paid an average of $107 per week for STEM programming, but only $74 per week for programs that didn’t offer STEM.
This is where philanthropy can and should step in. Overdeck Family Foundation aims to make high-quality afterschool STEM accessible to all students, which is why we support evidence-based organizations that address an area of market opportunity, failure, or inefficiency, providing them funding that allows them to offer high-quality, engaging, and relevant STEM programming for free or at a low-cost to students and families that otherwise wouldn’t have access. This work is especially important given that disparities in STEM achievement show up as early as elementary school and persist through higher education and beyond.
In September, the Foundation’s Inspired Minds portfolio granted $2.3 million in support of eight organizations committed to enhancing and improving student outcomes through afterschool STEM.
Direct impact STEM grants
Our direct impact grants support organizations that provide free or low-cost, high-quality STEM programming to students, especially those from low-income families who would otherwise lack access.
- BEAM provides academically rigorous summer and afterschool math camps for talented students. Their program has shown median student growth increases of 8 percent on assessment of math problem solving skills relative to national comparison. We’re supporting BEAM to expand their Entry Points program, which provides advanced virtual math programming for students in elementary and middle school.
- FIRST Robotics is a robotics-focused program that culminates in a national competition and aims to foster a global community that prepares young people for the future. FIRST participants are 2.1x more likely to increase STEM career interest relative to the comparison group.
- Future City asks students to apply their math and science skills to real-world problems as they imagine, design, model, and present their unique conception of a city of the future. Eighty-nine percent of educators said students improved problem-solving skills and application of math and science to real-world problems. We’re supporting Future City to increase program reach and refine their funding model and data reporting systems.
- The National Museum of Mathematics is dedicated to bringing math to life and providing enriching online and in-person programs and activities. The museum welcomed 3,700 student visitors online and in-person over the past year.
We provide unrestricted funding when possible to our grantees, and partner with external organizations and consultants to provide grantees non-monetary support meant to strengthen their capacity for innovating and scaling. Some examples are Listen4Good, which helps grantees collect, interpret, and respond to beneficiary feedback, and RevJen, which assists grantees in examining their revenue strategy and culture to make actionable and sustainable plans for the future.
STEM Ecosystem grants
Our ecosystem grantees aim to support the afterschool and summer STEM field through research, advocacy, and bridging connections between stakeholder groups. They help organizations develop evidence of impact, coordinate to receive public funding, and provide key research insights.
- Afterschool Alliance specializes in research, organizational support, and advocacy focused on afterschool/summer programming and youth development. We support their efforts to make afterschool STEM organizations more sustainable and provide key aids to the Statewide Afterschool Networks. The STEM Education Coalition Policy Forum provides advocacy and technical assistance to statewide afterschool networks and STEM ecosystems.
- NAFSCE strives to advance research, policies, practices, and partnerships for family, school, and community engagement to promote child development and improve student achievement. They are also launching a National Center on Family Math that will aim to amplify the power and joy of math through family and community engagement.
- WestEd specializes in research and evaluation, professional learning, technical assistance, and policy guidance within education, and is our research partner for an upcoming study on math engagement, helping us understand the effectiveness of various afterschool math program models.
What is changing, and how we move forward
- Is hybrid the future? The pandemic has led to a rapid increase of virtual and hybrid afterschool STEM program models. Many of these were created quickly to serve as many students as possible during the toughest days of the pandemic. Moving forward, we are looking to help grantees refine their understanding of how effective different delivery modalities (in-person, hybrid, virtual) can be in promoting academic and social-emotional student outcomes. In addition to studying program efficacy and impact, we’re interested in developing more insight into the potential tradeoffs between cost and impact. By helping our grantees learn more about what program components have the greatest impact on students, we aim to provide more targeted, actionable recommendations to other grant partners that are refining existing models or designing new ones, as well as improve our ability to identify programs and solutions with the highest chance of effectively improving student outcomes.
- Sustainability post Covid. With the passage of the American Rescue Plan Act, states and districts can use $2.44 billion to fund afterschool and summer programming over the next three years. However, the approaching 2024 cliff will require organizations to make strategic decisions about their funding models and long-term sustainability plans. We hope to learn what organizations can do to both attract and utilize these funds in the short-term, and to effectively prepare for a time when they are no longer available. This will better equip us to deploy monetary and non-monetary resources in ways that improve organizations’ likelihood of long-term sustainability at a consistent level of impact.
- Slowing down to speed up. Finally, we are deeply interested in how programs can improve or scale their impact on students, advance in ESSA tiers, and better understand the populations they serve. Covid led to an immense amount of innovation, but now is the time to slow down and engage in research to ensure that the innovations that were created lead to impactful change. Research studies, while time-consuming, can lead to improved understanding of how effective organizations are meeting students’ needs, insight into the greatest pain points for the afterschool STEM sector, and a more comprehensive understanding of the barriers students and families face in gaining access to high-quality programming. Overdeck Family Foundation plans to leverage this learning to not only support our grant partners, but the afterschool STEM field at-large.
We believe that all students should have access to afterschool programming that is rigorous, engaging, and affordable, and leads to great academic and social-emotional outcomes. The grantees we fund in the afterschool STEM field are moving us towards a future where that’s a reality. By providing these organizations with the resources needed to do this work sustainably, Overdeck Family Foundation is ensuring that they have the funding and flexibility to both accomplish the goals of the moment and prepare themselves for the challenges of the future. Reach out if you’d like to join us in this work.
Header image provided by FIRST.