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Professional Development

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Afterschool Programs: A Solution to Technology Access and Learning for Young People

Technology can change lives—and afterschool programs are an untapped solution to ensure youth have the access and supports they need to succeed with technology.

Recognizing that digital learning is the new norm in K-12 classrooms across the United States, we are committed to making sure afterschool programs have that same norm and young people can access technology for homework, to explore their interests, and to produce multimedia art and new ideas that advance their learning.

The simple fact is that children and youth spend the majority of their time—more than 80 percent—out of school. At the National AfterSchool Association (NAA), we work to make sure those hours are filled with engaging, creative, and project-based learning opportunities and supportive mentors. Now, with the support of a $500,000 grant from Google, we will be able to help both students and educators access necessary tools to maximize technology-based learning after school.

New research tells us that afterschool programs are poised to help close the digital divide. Policy Studies Associates recently explored this issue in the new report, "Empowering Afterschool Professionals for Digital Learning." The research concludes, however, that "afterschool programs can and must go beyond simply providing students with access to technology to complete homework assignments ... afterschool programs, with planning and vision, have the capacity to offer deeper digital learning opportunities."

To help young people access and best use technology, afterschool professionals need guidance, skills and knowledge. NAA is the membership association for professionals who work with children and youth in diverse school and community-based settings to provide a wide variety of extended learning opportunities and care during out-of-school hours. Together with Google, we're working to develop new tools and professional development opportunities to make sure the adults who work with youth are well prepared to effectively utilize technology as a learning tool.

Infusing afterschool programming with technology and helping afterschool professionals isn't just important; it's imperative. The evidence is clear: Low-income students lack consistent internet access after school. A 2015 report from the White House Council of Economic Advisors noted that fewer than 60 percent of children under the age of 10 in the lowest income quartile used the internet at home, compared to more than 90 percent of their higher-income peers. Furthermore, low-income black and Hispanic children are less likely to have home internet access than their white peers. The research concludes that, without equitable access to technology after school, students fall behind. This is often referred to as "the homework gap."

For more than 10 million young people nationwide, afterschool programs address the opportunity gap to help youth explore their interests and build the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in school and beyond. Afterschool professionals are experts at helping youth with their homework, communicating with schools, and developing relationships with families. Now, with technology-infused practices, the afterschool field is ready to help today's digital natives create a new future and attack the "homework gap."

Our work will incorporate what Google has learned through their dynamic learning projects. We agree that bridging the "digital divide" means more than just providing access. We must also equip afterschool educators with the skills and tools they need to effectively integrate technology into their programs.

Gina Warner is the president and CEO of the National AfterSchool Association (NAA).

Photo courtesy of Google CS First.