Testimony to the House Education Committee: Reopening of Pennsylvania Schools

On Wednesday, June 17, 2020, PSAYDN provided written testimony, in partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs Pennsylvania Alliance and the Pennsylvania State Alliance of YMCAs, to a virtual House Education Committee information meeting to discuss plans to safely reopen schools in the fall due to COVID-19. The testimony informed how afterschool can support schools in their reopening, shared various learning models across the state, and provided recommendations in spacing, funding and support.

Submitted by:
JR Kenny, Boys & Girls Clubs Pennsylvania Alliance
Laura Saccente, Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool Youth Development Network (PSAYDN)
David John, Pennsylvania State Alliance of YMCAs

Thank you to Majority Chairman Sonney and Minority Chairman Roebuck for the opportunity to submit testimony on behalf of over 6,000 afterschool and summer learning programs in Pennsylvania to members of the House Education Committee. The Pennsylvania Statewide Afterschool/Youth Development Network (PSAYDN), a statewide intermediary supporting thousands of children, families and staff who participate in out-of-school time (OST) programs such as afterschool and/or summer learning across the commonwealth, thanks the Committee for providing a forum to discuss how afterschool can support schools in their reopening. This written testimony also provides specific model examples and recommendations from two of our providers in the state, Boys & Girls Clubs Pennsylvania Alliance and the Pennsylvania State Alliance of YMCAs.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, disruptions to the stability of traditional schooling opened glaring pockets of inequitable access to technology, a lack of learning supports, and family resource needs that disproportionately affect vulnerable students. The effect of sustained learning loss during this period of school closures combined with disparities in the implementation of continuity of learning models has the potential to exacerbate previously existing gaps in student achievements.

Research from NWEA’s Collaborative for Student Growth Research Center suggests that when students head back to school next fall, overall they are likely to retain about 70% of this year’s gains in reading, compared with a typical school year, and less than 50% in math. Losses are likely to be more pronounced in the early grades, when students normally acquire many basic skills, and among those already facing steep inequities. At the same time, some children have thrived in a less-structured environment. In this time of reflection, we must be intentional to explore all avenues and examine school operations and school-afterschool partnerships as we reset our thinking toward the future.

Also, it is important to note that children and youth have been in social isolation since the pandemic began. Across the state, many afterschool programs have been in touch with the children and youth they serve by delivering meals, activity packets and providing other assistance to families. They are positioned to assess and address kids’ and families’ needs. Afterschool and summer programs are seen as trusted partners by families and communities. In this time of great disruption, the afterschool community has served and supported Pennsylvania families in ways that few other institutions have. While some of what was normal may have been lost, afterschool is even better positioned to support future growth and development

School reopening plans have been envisioned by several think tanks and groups of education leaders. The Council of Chief State School Officers has developed a framework, as has the American Federation of Teachers, the American Enterprise Institute, Aspen Institute, Chiefs for Change, and the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL). The American Institutes for Research has been assessing the plans based on their attention to the needs of the “whole child” and stated in their Reopening and Rebuilding briefing that afterschool plays an essential role in our country’s efforts to reopen and rebuild partnerships with youth, families and the community. Reasons being they (1) provide safe, developmentally rich settings for learning and development, (2) are seen as trusted partners by families and communities, and (3) have connections to other supports and services that schools and families need. They are in the best position to gauge the well-being of students and families.

As Pennsylvania considers reopening physical facilities across the state, we recommend that schools rely on afterschool partners to help them pull off this massive and uncharted task. On top of developing new protocols for instruction and schedules and establishing safety procedures, supports are needed for students who will return having experienced extreme social disconnection, trauma and significant learning gaps. Afterschool programs are an essential partner in addressing these challenges and need to be supported as well.

As Pennsylvania moves in the direction of reopening after the pandemic, critical needs like learning losses, social and emotional well-being, and supporting families’ ability to go back to work need to be immediately addressed to help support the commonwealth’s current and future economic growth. Afterschool programs are designed — and proven — to support all of these priorities, and do so in an incredibly cost-efficient manner. Not having access to afterschool programs does not make educational or economic sense. Children without an afterschool program lose 540 hours of learning time; lose access to afterschool meals and snacks; lose connections to caring adults and families lose needed childcare.

School reopening in 2020 will likely look very different from the usual school day. For example, if schools need to stagger student attendance this fall — some students in the morning and some in the afternoon— where will kids go the other half of the day? Having afterschool and community organizations at the table during these discussions and in school district reopening plans needs to be prioritized to ensure these best practices and resources are available when reopening schools. As we look ahead, the future is unclear, but we know there are significant changes to the start of the new school year in the fall. As schools and community programs reopen, our efforts will be strengthened by partnerships and collaboration. Next, we wish to share specific examples of how the Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCAs across the state are working to partner with schools and support students.

Afterschool/Summer Learning Model Examples

Pennsylvania Boys & Girls Clubs serve nearly 60,000 youth across 52 sites. Today, kids and communities need Boys & Girls Clubs and other afterschool programs more than ever. Boys & Girls Clubs programming focuses on three priority outcome areas: Health and Wellness, Academic Success, and Good Character and Citizenship — and we believe that every young person should have access to an available, high quality out-of-school time experience where that young person is safe to learn and grow.

Boys & Girls Clubs also have a track record of creating lasting change for our nation’s young people, and they are uniquely positioned to do so. According to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America National Youth Outcomes Initiatives (NYOI) report, a measurement system built to measure the impact of Clubs using a common set of research informed indicators of our priority outcomes found that:

Pennsylvania Boys & Girls Clubs offer a variety of age appropriate activities and programs designed not only to be engaging for youth, but also to serve as a complement to targeted math and reading instruction. Programs include:

The Pennsylvania State Alliance of YMCAs, comprised of 58 YMCA associations and 108 branch locations across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, serve over 790,000 members, including 165,000 under the age of 18. Annually, Ys provide over $57 million in financial assistance to those in need ensuring that, regardless of income, children and families have opportunities to be active and stay healthy. Our Ys have the trust of communities to convene, partner, and support collaborations with schools, government, faith based organizations, businesses and others. As of last year, Pennsylvania Ys reported 6,971 collaborations throughout the state, including many for afterschool programs.

Afterschool programs such as the 7th Grade Initiative, Youth and Government, Achievers or a host of other acclaimed enrichment programs, are hallmarks of the Y in serving children, youth and families. The Y recognizes that the hours between the end of the school day and dinner can be challenging for working families to ensure their children are staying safe and engaged in positive, uplifting activities. Each year, Ys in Pennsylvania serve in excess of 21,000 children in before and after school programs either in Y facilities or in schools or other venues.

Recommendations

The COVID-19 crisis has given rise to an assortment of challenges for YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs and other afterschool providers as they navigate the reopening process and prepare their communities to serve children once again. The issues include, but are not limited to, space, funding and support.

Afterschool programs will look very different as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, and afterschool providers are hopeful that the relevant state agencies and general assembly will provide the flexibility and supports necessary to modify programs in order to fully serve the needs of children and families. Providers respectfully urge decision-makers to consider and act upon unique opportunities, including funding, providing any necessary waivers, and learning and facility support for afterschool providers to offer the kinds of innovative programs Pennsylvania will need to support students and families fully as we work to rebuild and return stronger than before COVID-19. Afterschool is not simply an add-on or extra support for some children, but a necessity. It is essential that afterschool is available for every child across the commonwealth to ensure a more just and equitable education.

PSAYDN at Center for Schools and Communities
275 Grandview Avenue, Suite 200 | Camp Hill, Pa 17011 | (717) 763-1661
 
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