The COVID-19 pandemic has created many barriers and interruptions to out-of-school time programming. As a result, service providers have been forced to pivot to virtual learning platforms to continue to serve youth. Providers were uncertain about what to expect and how to tailor their programs to meet the current challenges.
We hosted the 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) Virtual Town Hall with OSSE last Wednesday, July 1st to provide further clarity and a space for providers to ask questions and seek guidance. We had a great turnout with over 35 participants, which sent a strong message about the importance of this conversation and the need for more clarity from OSSE.
The town hall started off with a welcome from our Chief of Staff, Matthew Hanson. Participants were then asked to describe in one word how they felt about the upcoming school year. Many providers selected words such as “anxious,” “critical” and “hopeful” to express how they felt. Once the introductions were done, it was clear that providers all shared the same ambivalence.
Tanisha Brown, Interim Director, Community Learning and School Support Division of Systems and Supports, K-12 and other representatives from OSSE participated. We received updates related to OSSE’s initial May 21st COVID-19 guidance document issued to CCLC program providers and discussed flexibility regarding programming and report requirements. Throughout the town hall, OSSE expressed their desire to work with providers and offer as much flexibility as possible.
During the question and answer portion of the town hall, participants were able to ask more specific questions based on their programs. These questions ranged from recalculating the proper dosage or hours of service for older youth in high school to when programming could take place, given the possibility of staggered school schedules and days off. OSSE committed to following up within the next few weeks with new written guidelines and having another meeting with providers.
The town hall elevated many of the uncertainties that out-of-school time providers are facing due to the current pandemic and underscored their collective impact in shaping positive youth development. The out-of-school time community and their critical work was further recognized by several funding increases and support from council members during the July 7th Committee of the Whole (COW) budget hearing. Councilmember Trayon White’s amendment that lowers the threshold for the estate tax would go directly to the office of Out of School Time for a mentoring program in the amount of $284,000 and the Subtitle I. Academic Middle Mentoring Initiative Act of 2020 would offer an additional $200,000 investment to OSSE for youth programming outside of the regular school day.
The overwhelming support is a testament to the strength of these programs and their heightened importance during this time. We will continue to work closely with our partners, the council, and OSSE to ensure that despite the current pandemic, these programs continue to be a positive and safe space for all young people.