Event | July 23, 2020

Business, Military, and Law Enforcement Leaders Highlight Power of Out-of-School Time Programs

OST programming can help improve the lives of youth across the country, and speakers at the panel discussion urged lawmakers to embrace program innovation and additional funding

Out-of-school time (OST) programming is an essential resource for school-aged youth. OST programs can encourage safety, foster connections, prevent juvenile crime, and improve academic performance to set kids on track to successful and fulfilling lives, in ways that can help build a strong future workforce, bolster national security, and increase long-term public safety.

That was the compelling message of a panel discussion convened by Council for a Strong America on July 22. The virtual discussion featured members from across CSA’s membership organizations, including ReadyNation and Champions for America’s Future member Michael Harper, a State Farm Insurance owner and retired player for the Portland Trail Blazers, Mission: Readiness member Major General (Ret.) Ronald L. Johnson, U.S. Army, and Fight Crime: Invest in Kids member Sheriff Walt McNeil of the Leon County (FL) Sheriff’s Office. The panel also included Kaylee Milliner, the Center Coordinator at the Promise South Salt Lake’s Hser Ner Moo Community and Welcome Center, who leads one of the most successful OST programs in the country.

The panelists asked lawmakers to rethink how kids can positively spend their time when not in a classroom, and how we can work together to strengthen and increase access to these programs. The current COVID-19 public health crisis has highlighted the essential role of OST programming and illuminated the need to innovate these programs and increase accessibility.

Out-of-school programs can include afterschool programs, and weekend, summer, and mentoring programs. They serve to positively engage young people, with connections to community and adults, to keep them safe, and to build their academic, social, and emotional skills. In the aftermath of COVID-19 and school closures across the nation, many children have lost access to crucial OST programs. The event provided an important spotlight on OST programs and their impact on young people.

Michael Harper spoke to the research-proven power of OST programs, and how that impact can improve educational outcomes for kids. “Quality out-of-school time programs meld the social and the academic support experiences to address the unique needs of each young person,” Harper noted. He cited a meta-analysis of 68 afterschool programs across the country that found participants did better on state reading and math achievement tests, had higher GPAs, and had higher school-day attendance than nonparticipants.

Harper also touted positive evidence around the 21st Century Community Learning Center program, a long-standing federal program that plays a truly critical role in helping kids access quality afterschool programming. Programs like these can help children gain the skills they’ll need to be part of the future workforce, Harper explained.

Gen. Johnson focused on the national-security significance of OST, first highlighting that an incredible 71 percent of recruiting-aged young people in this country are unable to qualify for military service due to a variety of factors, including a lack of educational attainment, a lack of physical fitness, or involvement with drugs or crime. He pointed out that OST programs help address all three concerns, thereby improving our national security over the long haul.

However, Gen. Johnson cautioned that innovation is crucial to continuing to leverage the power of OST programs. “All of us working together need to re-imagine these out-of-school programs to maintain consistent and positive options for kids,” he said. He called upon Congress, employers, and community leaders to remove barriers and allocate resources to provide engaging opportunities for kids to learn, lead, explore, and create. He went on to push for expanded federal funding and additional investments from state, local, and community groups in order to offer youth community-centric out-of-school opportunities.

Leon County (FL) Sheriff Walt McNeil provided his own perspective on OST programs, connecting their effects to public safety and crime prevention. McNeil underscored the need for increased funding and access to OST programs, as well as the importance of innovation in the face of the pandemic.

McNeil drew particular attention to programs funded through the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), noting that this type of OST program fosters behavioral changes, rather than placing youth in detention centers. “Local programs in Florida have focused on alcohol and substance abuse prevention or treatment services; tutoring and remedial education, especially in reading and mathematics; child and adolescent health and mental health services; and, leadership and youth development activities. However, Congress has yet to fully fund these programs,” McNeil cautioned. He went on to call for critical funding from the US Department of Education’s student support and academic enrichment programs, a federal funding source that helps school districts innovate learning, including afterschool programs, to encourage academic and social learning.

Finally, Kaylee Milliner, the Center Coordinator at the Promise South Salt Lake’s Hser Ner Moo Community and Welcome Center, talked about the Center’s highly successful work, and the positive impact of quality OST programs generally. She explained that afterschool programs can help reduce juvenile crime, since the window between 2:00 PM and 6:00 PM on school days is when involvement in juvenile crime peaks.

Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) offered supportive remarks regarding OST programs as well. “I have long been a supporter of out-of-school time programs,” Senator Capito said. “Traditionally, we think of them as after-school programs, but we have seen in West Virginia and around the country great examples of other programs like Camp Mariposa, which provides weekend camps multiple times a year for youth impacted by substance abuse in their families making a real difference for their communities.”

“These programs have also shown amazing flexibility to fill unexpected needs – whether it be a Boys and Girls Club or members of our faith communities providing meals in times of need or helping to provide access to distance learning needs necessitated by the pandemic. They are also a great opportunity for partnerships bringing together police departments, the education community, and so many others. I applaud the Council for a Strong America for highlighting these programs in their many forms.”

Video HIGHLIGHTS of the event may be found in the embedded video below; for video of the complete event, click here

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