Across the country, out-of-school time programs (OST) provide safe and caring spaces that support children’s learning and holistic development when they are not in school. In some cities, system-level structures exist to coordinate, connect, and support the organizations that provide these OST opportunities. These coordinating structures can provide a variety of services, including system-level visioning and planning, establishing and supporting the implementation of program quality standards, developing and maintaining a citywide data system to ensure equitable access to program opportunities, communicating with the public about OST opportunities, advocating for funding for the OST sector or serving as funders themselves. Families and communities have come to rely on these invaluable systems and supports. But what happened to these OST programs and the systems that support them during the COVID-19 pandemic?
“COVID-19 was a ‘stress-test’ for the Out-of-School-Time (OST) ecosystem. It taxed existing OST systems, providers, and beneficiaries, including school districts, youth, and families.” says Tracey Hartmann, Director of Qualitative Research at Research for Action, and the study’s co-director. “Even so, the OST field was a critical source of support for families and youth during the pandemic – partnering with other organizations and systems to help communities respond to the stressors created by the pandemic – and it will be essential in recovery as communities seek to rebuild.”
What role did OST systems play in supporting OST program providers, children, youth, and families? What difference did OST coordination structure make in supporting providers and leveraging the OST community on behalf of children, youth and families? These and other questions are the focus of a new study.
The Wallace Foundation is funding Research for Action (RFA), in partnership with McClanahan Associates Inc. and researchers at Duke and Vanderbilt Universities, to conduct a 12-city study. The study will shed light on the value of city-level OST coordinating structures and explore the role of OST system coordination in addressing equity concerns, a topic that the field has yet to deeply explore. Stay tuned for more, as the study will produce a suite of products, including briefs for practitioners and policymakers, and a final technical report and executive summary in fall 2023, all designed to help support the recovery of this ecosystem for the benefit of the families that have come to rely upon it.