Viewpoint

Keep strong work going on out-of-school time

Six thousand hours. Five years in a classroom. That is the estimated out-of-school (OST) learning-time difference in our community between students living in poverty and their more affluent peers. This learning gap feeds the opportunity gap reflected in the Harvard/Berkeley study that ranked Charlotte 50th among the 50 largest U.S. cities for social mobility and Mecklenburg County 99th among the 100 largest U.S. counties.

Our community has been talking about coordinating and improving OST programs for all of our children for a long time. While Charlotte was talking, Nashville, Boston, Fort Worth, and other cities have invested considerable community resources to develop standards and training, and to provide evaluations and services to help families find high quality programs for their children

Charlotte has an opportunity to go beyond talk.

In 2012, with the encouragement of a coalition led by Foundation For The Carolinas, Council for Children’s Rights picked up the challenge of moving OST coordination forward until it could be spun out to a permanent home in the community.

Working with public and private community partners, Council led the collaborative creation of agreed upon OST quality standards, delivered a web-based program locator, now operating on the Council’s website to help families find and assess available programs, and coordinated the planning and delivery of 10 professional development sessions for OST professionals. But there is much more to do, and the progress of the past 2 1/2 years is now at risk.

Funding for the Council’s OST incubation work expires on June 30. We have not found anybody willing to give the work a permanent home or sustainable funding.

Imagine the possibilities:

▪ Uniform standards, regular evaluations, organized professional development, and program ratings ensure the quality of OST programming for all our children.

▪ With a permanent home and sustainable funding, the OST coordinator would have the means to expand and market tools and training to reach more families and build awareness of available quality programs.

▪ Our community could join national coalitions such as Every Hour Counts and the Wallace Foundation for support and to learn from other cities building similar systems.

Our children and the hard-working OST professionals in Charlotte deserve our support. The positive side effect of doing the right thing will be a stronger and more prosperous community. Communities that invest in OST programs save $3 for every $1 invested.

Educators, law enforcement, parents, social workers, civic officials, and researchers all agree: coordinated, quality after-school and summer programs keep kids safe, prepare them for success, and relieve working parents of worries about their children's afternoon and school break hours.

Charlotte is at a crossroads. We must act now to take advantage of this opportunity to close the opportunity gap in our community by sustaining the OST coordination ground work incubated by the Council.

Simmons is the executive director and Schermbeck is the director of education initiatives for the Council for Children’s Rights. Email: bsimmons@cfcrights.org.

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