I spent a large portion of my career working in New Orleans, Louisiana, the city that leads the nation with the largest percentage of students enrolled in public charter schools. As the leader of the city's afterschool intermediary for many years, I have a lot of experience building positive partnerships between afterschool providers and school leaders. Those experiences give me hope that afterschool can—and will—play a meaningful role in the growth of school choice.
Here are four things I know:
1. Afterschool is choice.
Inherent in many of the discussions about school choice is the belief that parents and children should have the ability to choose an educational environment that best meets their needs. Every day, 10.2 million children choose to participate in afterschool programs that enhance their academic, social, emotional and physical development. We need to embrace this message and begin to view it as central to our mission of growing afterschool investment.
2. Strong school leaders value afterschool.
High-quality afterschool programs positively impact school attendance, behavior and coursework. Strong school leaders see a high-quality afterschool program as an integral part of delivering successful outcomes for their students.
3. Strong afterschool programs drive student enrollment.
In cities like New Orleans and Washington, D.C.—where there is a competitive marketplace of educational options for families—those schools offering afterschool programs are viewed much more favorably by families and are often the schools with the longest waiting lists for admission.
4. Both in school and out of school, quality matters.
Just creating more choices is not sufficient to ensure the outcomes we want and need for all of our children. We must invest in the people that do this work, so they can continue to deliver high-quality learning and enrichment experiences for all children before, during and after the school day.
I will continue to advocate for increased investment in afterschool, because I believe in the positive benefits of strong afterschool programs for children, families and communities. Investments in school choice cannot come at the expense of investments in creating greater access to high-quality afterschool programs. I am hopeful that by working together—with a shared vision of success for all—afterschool can and will be a part of a growing school choice landscape.
Written by Gina Warner, president and CEO of the National AfterSchool Association.