Navigating the Afterschool Landscape: Policy, Research, and Funding

(Session summary by Sean Smith, ASTC’s director of government and public relations)

On Sunday afternoon, ASTC 2012 Annual Conference attendees had the opportunity to learn about ways in which to engage comprehensive afterschool programs as partners in STEM education. Session leader Anita Krishnamurthi (Director of STEM Policy, Aftershool Alliance), along with panelists Victoria Wegener (Lead Facilitator, Afterschool Technical Assistance Collaborative, Mainspring Consulting) and Debbie Zipes (Executive Director, Indiana Afterschool Network), shared effective practices, available funding streams, and federal policy issues that affect afterschool providers, while also presenting results from a recent study on defining STEM learning outcomes in afterschool.

The session, Navigating the Afterschool Landscape: Policy, Research, and Funding, began with an overview of what “afterschool” really means, then offered some statistics that helped frame the current state of affairs: here in the United States, 8.4 million kids (15%) participate in afterschool programs, while 15.1 million kids (26%) are on their own afterschool. According to the Afterschool Alliance, an additional 18.5 million kids would participate in a quality program if one were offered in their community—from an ASTC member perspective, then, the need certainly exists. But what can supporters of afterschool do to make the case for increased funding and opportunities? Fortunately, according to the panelists, there is tremendous bipartisan support for the issue. Messages that seems to resonate include the themes of keeping kids safe, helping working parents, and inspiring learners at an early age (which the Afterschool Alliance wants to get out even more).

A number of recent surveys and reports have focused on afterschool, including those from the Afterschool Alliance and Change the Equation and Nielson, which found that less than 20% of households have children enrolled in STEM afterschool programs, and that participation is especially low among elementary and high school students, perhaps because of a recent emphasis on middle school STEM.

What are some outcomes of learning—particuarly STEM learning in afterschool? We know now that they include: inspiring and engaging kids; building skills and proficiencies; and inspiring kids to pursue STEM majors and careers. And we may know more soon, as an ongoing Delphi study aims to delve into specific outcomes, indicators, and sub-indicators that the afterschool field can deliver. The study is currently wrapping up and a report may be ready as early as December.

With these studies in mind, Krishnamurthi reported on the number of U.S. federal programs that provide funding streams for afterschool. There are more than 100, including those offered by the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Science Foundation, and, of course, the Department of Education, which offers the only federal program that exclusively targets afterschool, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program. ASTC members will be pleased to learn that the program is ramping up its STEM empahsis, and now offers more support for the area. A look at the federal STEM education investment overall shows $3 billion in annual funding across the federal science mision agencies; the Office of Science and Technology Policy is working on a strategic plan to better coordinate these investments.

The conversation then turned to the National Network of Statewide Afterschool Networks, which was established by the C.S. Mott Foundation in 2002. Networks are public-private partnerships that are designed to provide intentional and meaningful bridges between leaders of schools, communities, and families in order to support student learning. There are currently 41 networks, and the numbers are growing. Networks include a range of partners, like state education, health and human services, and workforce offices, elected officials, etc. Attendees—and ASTC members who were not able to attend this year’s conference—were encouraged to visit the National Network’s website,, where they will be able to find detailed information on each existing state network, contact information available for state leads, and more. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the contacts in your state—Wegener reported that they are expecting to hear from you as a result of this session!

The session closed with insightful comments from Zipes, head of the Indiana Afterschool Network, who shared some practical steps for building an effective statewide afterschool STEM system, including: establishing the leadership team; creating a shared mission, vision, and goals; securing funding and resources; focusing on professional development; undergoing evaluation; and even advocacy efforts. Zipes reported that they have recently developed afterschool STEM standards for Indiana, which didn’t previously exist. Their work includes an online assessment tool for initial afterschool standards, which is scheduled to be launched in January—your feedback is welcomed. Zipes concluded with some great advice for those interested in cultivating great STEM afterschool partnerships in their state: (1) Ask for advice; (2) Stay true to what you’re great at; (3) Engage experts outside your area of expertise; and (4) You can accomplish anything if you don’t care who gets the credit.