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WNC Business

Afterschool programs support existing and rising workforces

Jul 25, 2023 10:51AM ● By Randee Brown

Afterschool programs play a major role in the lives of working families, according to NC Center for Afterschool Programs Director Elizabeth Anderson.

Anderson describes afterschool programs as safe places for children while their families are working, providing peace of mind for parents and extended learning experiences for students. NC CAP works with all kinds of quality enrichment programs around the state including those focused on sports, academics, arts, STEM, and more.

“We act as a convener,” Anderson said. “We try to bring together out-of-school time stakeholders to discuss the many issues. We hold an annual Synergy Conference that brings together a variety of affiliated professionals in the sector, and are creating regional convening opportunities as well.” 

In WNC, NC CAP is working with Dogwood Health Trust to learn what programming is currently available in order to help fill in the gaps, especially in rural areas. The organization also conducts research to outline best practices and determine what best supports the field with other entities such as public school alliances. NC CAP also acts as a catalyst advocating policy issues supporting afterschool and childcare policies and the way programs are supported and funded to help families be able to afford them.

Currently, programs are funded in a variety of ways, according to Anderson. Large organizations including the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and 21st Century Community Learning Centers as well as the Department of Public Instruction help fund many public afterschool programs. Private afterschool programs may charge tuition, though with the high cost of offering high-quality programming and care, many of these programs are also supplementally funded through grants or private funders to make the rates affordable for working families.

According to the NC Afterschool Alliance, the average cost of paid programs is $109 per week. Part of the Child Care Development Fund, the Child Care and Development Block Grant helps provide childcare and afterschool service funding for working low-income families with children up to age 13. Increasing each year since 2014, the national fund is estimated to provide $8.02 billion in 2023, with $239,522,789 of those funds going to families in NC.

While there are many existing programs, the demand for afterschool programming is rising in North Carolina. According to Anderson, for every child currently enrolled, there are three waiting for an available spot. That number increases in rural areas — for every child enrolled, four are waiting. The NC Afterschool Alliance reports that 47% of children in rural communities would participate in an afterschool program if there was one available.

“Afterschool programs are not accessible to everyone,” Anderson said. “We are working in advocacy and capacity-building so that more people who want to be enrolled can be. Barrier issues include availability, cost, and transportation, and particularly in Western North Carolina, the geographic availability and lack of available transportation, especially for parents working second shifts or long hours, this is a huge challenge.”

More than providing care for children of working parents, afterschool programs provide high-quality opportunities for children to develop workforce skills, according to Anderson. Many programs are adjusting to the need by offering chances to learn these skills through STEM activities and experiential learning.

“Outside of the classroom, this work is not graded,” Anderson said. “It’s a ‘lower-stakes' environment where kids can explore different roles and interests. For example, students can go through the scientific process and develop a hypothesis and maybe fail, but they’ll feel less nervous about it. By the time they graduate, they will have had a chance to try on a bunch of different hats to help them decide what it is they want to do next.”

Anderson said there are some programs directly linked to a variety of specific local industries, and there is room for more of those. There is a STEM Asset Mapping Database that acts as a hub with curriculum and lessons that can be implemented. There is a focus on resources, research, careers, and engagement, and this online tool highlights local STEM assets which programs, schools, families, and communities can leverage to engage students in STEM activities. 

Some business entities can help support partners such as higher education facilities, libraries, and museums, according to Anderson. Businesses support a lot of these, and since they know exactly what skills their desired workforce needs to develop, businesses that can help build programs specific to those can be life-changing.

“This is a great space for businesses to get involved,” Anderson said. “Whether volunteering particular skills, activities, or mentorship opportunities, partnering with afterschool programs is a great way to get involved in the community while helping to groom rising talent to the workforce.”