Recommendations on How OST Programs Can Support Students Now

DC Out-of-School Time Coalition

An open letter to Deputy Mayor Paul Kihn

 

Dear Deputy Mayor of Education Paul Kihn,

We are writing to follow up on our November 20 letter sharing ideas about how the out-of-school time sector can better collaborate with DC Public Schools, public charter schools, and the students and families they serve, as we navigate the pandemic and look to give our kids the support they need and deserve. 

Below are specific avenues of support that OST programs are ready to offer for the duration of the pandemic to help stem learning loss and increase opportunities for social emotional connection and development.

  • Offer free virtual learning enrichment programming during professional development Wednesdays or other open times on charter school students’ schedules
  • Partner in CARE classroom enrichment (in-person or virtual)
  • Provide elective enrichment plug-ins. For example, Kelly Miller Middle School has a clear, set schedule with open time blocks that are effectively treated as elective time, that students use to participate in OST programs
  • Create visual, multilingual materials about OST options for principals to share easily with families in their school community
  • Connect students and families with food and social service resources
  • Offer attendance incentives (including community service hours for high school students) to students who attend both school and an OST program
  • Provide tutoring and college and career readiness programming
  • Teach and activate civic participation 
  • Make available in-person, socially distanced outdoor activities to support student engagement (when DCPS and charters are ready to allow in-person experiences)

As we look ahead to the end of the pandemic, we know that not only today, but also when all students return to in-person, full-time school, students need the safe spaces OST programs provide to process the individual and collective traumas of 2020. Research proves OST programs work. For example, a recent McKinsey study highlighted the scope of learning loss, particularly for students of color, and identified OST programs and play in helping to make up the difference. 

For that reason, we call to your attention the potential long-term impact of the pandemic on the OST sector and workforce. DC’s OST sector -- which is comprised primarily of small nonprofits -- employs hundreds of District residents. Each year DC’s OST sector also drives many millions of dollars of private investment into the District. If OST programs have to lay off workers or reduce programming in the near-term, it will hurt the District’s long-term recovery, set back education goals, and hurt working families.

With that in mind, we offer a few additional ideas for simple near-term actions OSSE, DCPS, and charter school leaders can take to facilitate OST programs’ ability to mitigate learning loss right now and in the future, and remain a robust long-term support for families and students: 

  • Promote existing OST resources. Ask principals to regularly circulate to students and families, and post on school websites, a list of OST options available to their students.
  • Increase dialogue with the OST community. Since OST programs continue to serve as a trusted bridge between many families and schools, the OST community has information and knowledge about student needs that can help inform school leaders’ plans - even at an operations level - about how and when to safely and effectively reopen schools. The OST community is eager and ready to source additional community feedback and provide input through structured dialogue, for example, via regular meetings between Chancellor Ferebee and the OST community.   
  • Clarify the plans for vaccination rollout. We know from public reports that health officials are prioritizing educators for the vaccine, but it is not clear whether that includes the staff of OST programs. Clarifying where and when school-based partners like OST programs fit into the vaccination plan would help everyone plan for success. 

We also offer two ideas specific to the CARE classrooms initiative that would help OST providers be better partners to DCPS in this endeavor:

  • Improve the CARE classroom RFP if another round goes out. DCPS should consider modifying the RFP process to reduce barriers to OST programs providing support staff or enrichment opportunities .
  • Share more data with OST providers. To be able to staff and support CARE Classrooms, OST programs need access to more information about the number of students enrolled, how many are expected to enroll, and students' special needs. 

DC’s OST community is deeply invested in the success of all students in the District. Although no one yet knows  when full-time, in-person learning will resume, the OST community remains committed to meeting families where they are and ensuring they have access to all resources they need. We are eager to work together to leverage all of our collective resources to support DC students now and in the future.

We appreciate in advance your consideration of the above. We look forward to speaking with you about next steps.

Sincerely,

DC Action for Children, on behalf of the DC Out-of-School Time Coalition

December 17, 2020