Earlier this month, Gov. Butch Otter expressed his focus for education and workforce development in the State of the State address. Too often as we discuss quality education and its role in the future workforce, we just look to what is offered in the classroom. Yet, by the age of 18, youths will spend 80 percent of their waking hours outside the classroom. It is imperative that policymakers and stakeholders consider partnerships with out-of-school programs to achieve statewide education goals, especially with STEM, workforce and literacy skills.
Research shows that access to high-quality out-of-school programs improve academic performance, increase high school graduation rates, encourage healthy activity, and advance social and emotional adjustment. Additionally, studies show marked decrease in substance use, teen pregnancy and juvenile crimes.
According to the national survey America After 3, 67 percent of Idaho’s after-school programs offer workforce skill trainings like time management, team building and communication. Of Idaho’s after-school programs, 80 percent offer activities in science, technology, engineering and math.
STEM and workforce skills are being developed in activities at your local 4-H club, Girl Scout troop, library or FIRST Robotics team. For some, accessing these skills outside of formal learning is critical to finding their passion. Out-of-school programs offer learning without the pressure of grades and with more time for hands-on activities.
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Out-of-school programs don’t just increase access to STEM or sharpen workforce skills; they are allies in the statewide education goal for grade-level reading, especially in helping prevent the “summer slide,” or the months of learning loss that can occur when students don’t have access to activities that include reading or writing. Students that repeatedly face this annual setback will continually struggle to sustain school-year gains.
As discussions break out this legislative session on the additional literacy funding to districts, let’s be aware that IRI (Idaho Reading Indicator) scores from many schools reflect this set over the summer. Regardless of how well-trained our teachers are or what new curriculum schools invest in, if literacy plans don’t account for the summer slide, additional funding may not yield the best outcomes. Schools with summer setbacks should consider using additional funding to build partnerships with summer programs and libraries to ensure access to literacy resources and activities during summer.
For example, recently Boys and Girls Club partnered with a local school to measure the summer slide and the impact of their summer programming. For the students in the club’s summer program, 62 percent returned to school in the fall reading at grade level, with no summer slide. In contrast, only 42 percent of the other students returned to school that fall reading at grade level.
Idaho invests millions in education, millions in the 20 percent of the time spent in the classroom. The other 80 percent of the time deserves strong consideration in state policies and budget. As the state strives to hit key educational benchmarks and goals, out-of-school time must not be overlooked.
Marie Hattaway is the director of Idaho AfterSchool Network, a program of Jannus Inc.