Note from Director Mike Feder: STEMx readers, I read this post a few weeks ago. It offers some critical details, both about the importance of afterschool programs but also on how the Afterschool Alliance keeps legislators briefed. With permission, we’re cross-posting this information.

by Erik Peterson for the Afterschool Alliance, original post

The benefits provided by afterschool programs can be integral to the fabric of a rural community—including STEM learning experiences, community connections, caring mentors, and healthy snacks and meals. On July 26th, a Senate Afterschool Caucus briefing on “Afterschool in Rural America” highlighted research and experiences from providers that demonstrates how rural parents not only view afterschool programs as a support system for children’s academic growth, social development, and overall health and wellness, but how they also regard programs as a critical resource for working families.

An audience of Congressional staffers and representatives from national organizations heard from an expert panel about why the demand for afterschool programs in rural America is even greater than the overall national demand:

Nikki Yamashiro, director of research for the Afterschool Alliance, spoke on data gathered from parents and rural afterschool providers and featured in the 2016 America After 3PM Special Report:The Growing Importance of Afterschool in Rural Communities, sponsored by John Deere. Nikki reported on statistics about the demand for afterschool, including the finding that 3.1 million rural children who aren’t in an afterschool program would be enrolled in a program if one were available. She also noted how parents say that afterschool supports children and families, and that rural support for public investment in afterschool is strong. She also touched on the challenges faced by rural providers, including those challenges around providing quality STEM learning opportunities.

Liz Nusken, technical advisor for the YMCA of the USA, spoke about rural afterschool from the perspective of a national afterschool program provider. She painted a clear picture of what a rural YMCA program looks like, and the ways that YMCAs and schools work together in rural communities with key academic and behavioral outcomes. In particular, her presentation spoke to the work of the YMCA Achievement Gap Initiative in rural communities.

Tammy Shay, director of programs, policy and communications for the Maryland Out of School Time (MOST) Network, talked through rural afterschool from a state perspective covering three key areas:

  • Assets of rural providers. Strong partnerships are key to success for afterschool in general—but absolutely essential in rural communities, where everyone wears many hats and can speak about a variety of issues. Schools are “community schools” in rural areas by default, and afterschool programs can be the bridge between schools and other services in area.
  • Transportation challenges. The distances involved and high costs of transportation for rural afterschool program providers form a large hurdle for rural providers to overcome.
  • The supports that rural programs need. The briefing emphasized the importance of 21st CCLC funding, which helps to provide a backbone for programs that includes supporting core staffing that is needed to loop in other partners, managing day to day operations, and finding and retaining staff.

Tammy also detailed the Maryland STEM ambassador program as an example of how statewide afterschool networks create a bridge and make essential connections between community assets in rural areas across the state.

This briefing covered an important topic for the afterschool field. America After 3PM research found that for every one rural child in an afterschool program, there are three more rural children who are missing out on the amazing opportunities that afterschool programs have to offer. Afterschool supporters and providers can learn more about rural afterschool programs through the 2016 America After 3PM Special Report: The Growing Importance of Afterschool in Rural Communities and the rural afterschool data dashboard.

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