In America today, 15.1 million children take care of themselves after the school day ends, including almost four million middle school students in grades six to eight. Just 8.4 million children are in afterschool programs, but the parents of another eighteen million children say their kids would participate if a program were available. The Afterschool Alliance seeks to educate the public, the media, and policymakers about the enormous potential of quality afterschool programs, and how programs across the country are inspiring children and creating opportunities for them to succeed academically, socially, and professionally. The Afterschool Alliance serves as a national voice for afterschool, and provides resources and materials to more than twenty-six thousand afterschool programs. It organizes national and local afterschool events, including the organization's signature event, Lights On Afterschool; conducts research on the need and support for afterschool; creates tools for afterschool practitioners; and connects afterschool leaders to national, state, and local opinion leaders.
As executive director, Grant oversees all aspects of the Afterschool Alliance's work—setting its goals and strategies for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, working with the field to help programs tap into federal funding streams, and supervising research to help national, state, and local afterschool advocates and providers support, create, and expand quality afterschool programs.
Prior to joining the Afterschool Alliance, Grant served as director of Work and Family Programs for the National Partnership for Women & Families. In that position, she worked to protect and expand the Family & Medical Leave Act, and was a member of the team that successfully defended the law before the U.S. Supreme Court. Prior to that, she worked on Capitol Hill as general counsel to the Senate Budget Committee and as staff director for a Senate committee. Her legislative accomplishments include expanded support for the child tax credit, the Child Health Insurance Program, and class size reduction. She also served as liaison to the National Governors' Association, where she worked closely with Republican and Democratic governors.
Grant graduated from Yale University with honors in 1990 and was elected senior class president. She received her law degree from Harvard University, where she was elected class president (first marshal). As a student, she volunteered at an afterschool program. She currently serves as a trustee of the America's Promise Alliance, an advisory board member of Time Warner Cable's "Connect a Million Minds" campaign, and as co-chair of the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry's Student Development Advisory Committee. Grant and her husband and two children live in Bethesda, Maryland. In her nonexistent free time, Grant moonlights as a fitness instructor.
What are the accomplishments you are most proud of?
I am proud to lead a team that is helping transform afterschool and improving options and outcomes for students, families, and communities, all across the country. The afterschool field has grown by leaps and bounds, and we have the research, the practices, and the broad grassroots support to demonstrate that high-quality afterschool and summer programs are essential for our children and youth.
The Afterschool Alliance has led efforts to maintain and expand public funding for afterschool programs, most notably through education and advocacy for 21st Century Community Learning Centers, the chief federal funding stream for afterschool, before-school, and summer learning programs. We have watched this funding stream grow from one million dollars a year to more than a billion dollars a year. And thanks to a growing body of compelling research, the commitment of afterschool providers to constantly improve, and committed allies including parents and educators, we have protected this funding stream from the kinds of extreme cuts that have devastated other programs during these tight budgetary times.
I also am so proud of the dynamic, diverse, sophisticated leadership that has blossomed in the afterschool community, at the local, state, and federal levels.
For me personally, the happiest moments come when I am visiting programs around the country and seeing firsthand the magic that occurs in afterschool. The afterschool workforce and the students we serve are tremendous, and every program has stories of lives that have been changed in afterschool. It is a true privilege to see afterschool in action, and I am in awe of the work that is done every day to help students succeed.
Where do you see the field in ten years?
Afterschool programs were created to keep students safe and to help working parents. This is why they are so popular, and that will remain an important part of our mission. At the same time, many programs are funded with public education dollars, so it is essential that we show that our programs help students succeed academically.
But afterschool programs do even more than that, and this is an exciting time. Afterschool curricula are exploding, especially around STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) or STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math). It's fabulous to see growing partnerships between afterschool programs and museums, science and tech centers, colleges and universities, and even industry to support hands-on, engaging STEM activities in the afterschool space. STEM and STEAM illustrate the best of afterschool learning—finding ways to engage and excite students, and encourage them to get outside of their comfort zones. Many STEM and STEAM projects encourage collaboration and teamwork, as well as creativity and problem solving. STEM mentors become role models to students and help them envision STEM careers.
Afterschool programs also are playing an essential role in supporting physical and mental health and social development. Our children need the opportunity to be physically active and afterschool programs provide a comfortable place for all sorts of activities, from walking clubs to team sports. They are also a place where children can learn about healthy lifestyles and receive healthy snacks and meals. We are seeing terrific models with health care, including oral and mental health services, being delivered to students from low-income families at afterschool sites.
Afterschool programs meet a variety of needs for students and families, and help students build confidence and find a place to belong. We need a broader definition of learning that values this, and that includes but goes well beyond academics. I believe the pendulum is going to swing back from a focus on high-stakes tests to more attention to the multitude of things students need to succeed. Afterschool programs lie at the intersection of education and youth development, providing enormous benefits to students. But as we face the challenge to serve older youth and help stem the appalling dropout rates, our voluntary programs also need be fun, exciting, social, and engaging. I believe we'll see real progress on that in the next decade.
I also think the afterschool movement can reshape our country's education policy to focus more on the whole child. The partnerships that occur in the afterschool space are a wonderful model for leveraging a community's resources for students, and I anticipate that this model will be replicated much more in the next ten years. I see afterschool and the afterschool workforce being embraced by educators and policymakers as key to student learning.
What are the biggest opportunities for the afterschool industry?
The afterschool industry has a tremendous opportunity to showcase how the infrastructure created in an afterschool program can provide a foundation to leverage partnerships and provide a host of resources to all our children, particularly those most in need.
Afterschool programs are nimble and well-positioned to be at the forefront of the development and implementation of new models of learning. We can demonstrate that learning can occur anywhere, anytime. Whether it is through digital badges, transferable credits, distance learning, or in other ways, afterschool has to seize opportunities to break new ground and invent effective new models of learning.
I also hope we can lead the way with better measures of student success that include social and emotional skills, as well as academics. Even academic skills need to be measured in ways that are broader than exams and include factors like attendance, mastery of subjects, application to the work, creativity, teamwork, and confidence. All that should be part of a broader picture of the skills we help our students develop.
What are the biggest challenges facing afterschool?
The greatest challenge to our field is that so many of our nation's leaders don't understand what a high-quality afterschool program looks like. They still think it is merely a program that keeps our children safe. As a result, these leaders recognize programs as popular and perhaps even valuable, but not as essential. That is terribly wrong, and it is a misconception we have to correct.
We need the resources for a massive public and opinion leader education campaign that shows exactly how high-quality afterschool programs are supporting students. I always say that the best way to create an afterschool champion is to take him or her to see a program in action. We need to overcome reluctance and do much more of that.
What makes an afterschool program successful?
I'd like to share the Afterschool Alliance's publication Principles of Effective Expanded Learning Programs: A Vision Built on the Afterschool Approach. It describes a core set of key principles that we consider the keys, or critical elements, to success, based on decades of research documenting the outcomes of afterschool and summer programs. They are school/community partnerships; opportunities for engaged learning; family engagement; intentional programming; diverse, prepared staff; participation and access; safety, health, and wellness; and ongoing assessment and improvement.
We are convinced that aligning the spectrum of expanded learning opportunities with these principles will ensure quality and consistency across all programs.
Edited by Amy L Charles, editorial director of AfterSchool Today magazine, the Official Publication of the National AfterSchool Association.