Ron Ottinger is the Executive Director of the STEM Next Opportunity Fund†
Summer is just around the corner after another challenging school year for our hard-working students and teachers. Of course, those of us in education know that learning doesn’t stop during the summer. Far from. When students have access to valuable opportunities to learn and grow, summer can be one of the most valuable times for young people to engage in meaningful hands-on learning. Again and again, Research has demonstrated the importance of after-school and summer programs in advancing students’ academic aspirations and fostering the enjoyment of learning, particularly in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).
This summer is especially crucial for the millions of young people who have experienced “learning loss” over the past two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Numerous studies have shown that shifts in the way students learn have affected learning outcomes. Educators continue to support student social and emotional health and other crises that have impacted learning. These challenges are very complex and require complex solutions.
Fortunately, school communities are getting creative with using federal assistance from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to effectively support student growth. According to a new analysis of FutureEd, summer education is the number one solution districts are embracing to address learning recovery. According to the same survey, nearly two-thirds of districts plan to use ARP funds for summer and after-school programs. These programs include after-school and summer learning opportunities within the public system and community organizations.
That’s the good news. However, the reality is that school systems cannot do it all alone. The available funding is not sufficient to meet the demand. According to the America After 3PM report, three children have to wait to participate in an after-school program for each admitted child. In addition, many complex operational necessities, such as transportation and program staffing, are too often under-resourced, ultimately preventing students living in “resource deserts” from accessing these all-important programs. The effort is a failure, and students, parents and teachers pay the price. This has been the case, especially for young people from disadvantaged communities and students with disabilities†
That’s why I believe Philanthropists, corporations and other investors in education need to prioritize summer learning more. As the executive director of a venture capital philanthropy fund, I believe this is an opportunity that should be used as widely and widely as possible. I’ve found that support is needed, especially for extracurricular opportunities in STEM, where black, Latino and female students are disproportionately denied access to opportunities – even before the pandemic – and where we will no doubt see learning gaps widening in the coming years if learning losses are not reversed.
What should this support look like? Here are a few areas worthy of investors’ attention.
Communication between learning environments can be challenging, especially between different organisations. Technical assistance can provide classroom teachers and extracurricular educators with the opportunity to create channels of communication that enhance each child’s new bright spots and learning needs. Technical assistance can be particularly helpful in ensuring that the most effective strategies, supported by research, are incorporated into the learning continuum.
Investors should consider focusing on technical assistance to help district partnerships and programs. In this way, districts and after-school/summer providers can work together to focus on a tailored approach to children’s needs.
Family involvement is another important area that investors can promote for programs, schools and families. Family involvement supports students, especially our most marginalized. By creating partnerships between schools and after-school and summer programs, staff can develop a collaborative strategy and use their resources and partnerships to get families excited about their child’s progress.
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)
Investors can also focus on supporting social and emotional learning (SEL). This can take many forms, such as granting subsidies to communities for in-school, extracurricular, and summer programs aimed at developing students’ social and emotional skills.
In general, I believe we should all do our part to ensure that ARP funding reaches the providers who can partner with districts and school systems and networks to help advocate for state policies and continued funding beyond these one-time funds. The ROI is clear: the US Department of Education has highlighted how collaborative funding improves academic and emotional support in districts across the country.
Both school systems and investors still have time to make smart investments in summer education to help our students realize their potential during this challenging time. Students, teachers and after-school educators deserve nothing less. These summer months can do wonders for students as young people have access to quality learning opportunities that not only help make up for lost time, but to expand their knowledge and skills in exciting ways they can’t even imagine. How will you do your part?