Richmond Times Dispatch | Op-Ed | October 21, 2019
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Abigail Farris Rogers, Barbara Couto Sipe, Damon Jiggetts and Sean Miller column: Don’t leave Richmond’s children behind
By Abigail Farris Rogers, Barbara Couto Sipe, Damon Jiggetts and Sean Miller Oct 21, 2019
A swim instructor worked with second graders from Bellevue Elementary School at the Downtown YMCA in Richmond last year. Out-of-school time activities can help improve academic and social-emotional outcomes for children living in poverty. DANIEL SANGJIB MIN/TIMES-DISPATCH
Richmond’s children need quality, year-round, out-of-school time (OST) activities; students who aren’t involved in structured, supervised learning during out-of-school hours have the greatest danger of accidents, victimization and high-risk behavior, including crime and drugs. This need is acute for our under-resourced children. These students often begin school unprepared and continue to fall behind peers without quality OST programming.
Our local United Way chapter has reported 63.2% of children in Richmond are under-resourced, living below 200% of the poverty level. The third-grade reading SOL passage rate, an important indicator of learning and future performance, is just 40.9% for low-income Richmond students and has declined steadily in recent years. The on-time high school graduation rate of 75.4% is well below the state average of 91.6%. These issues cannot be solved by schools alone.
Our children are our future, and their future depends on a quality education, both in and out of school. From our schools, students need a strong pre-K to 12 instructional experience. Equally important is providing for the 80% of learning occurring informally outside of school. By one estimate, middle-income sixth graders have already spent 6,000 more hours learning than those born into poverty, and the biggest portion of that learning gap happens after school and during the summer. We need to ensure all our children have access to quality learning opportunities, providing working families with relief and equipping children with skills to live and thrive in a dynamic and rapidly changing local and global society.
It is imperative that our community provide out-of-school time opportunities for our youth.
Quality OST programs have a demonstrated positive effect on academic and social-emotional outcomes for youth living in poverty. The Promising Afterschool Programs study observed approximately 3,000 students, 85% of whom were Latinx or African American, from low-income families attending 35 afterschool programs nationwide. The study determined that those who regularly attended high-quality OST programs over two years saw gains in standardized math test scores compared to non-participants. Additionally, misconduct and drug and alcohol use decreased.
What is the answer locally?
A number of Richmond organizations have championed youth development challenges for many years. In 2017, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney charged a group with developing a vision for a city-wide OST system to improve access and quality of support services available to all Richmond children and uphold the city’s pledge to reduce and mitigate poverty.
This group, which includes Richmond Public Schools, nonprofits and members of the philanthropic community, was tasked with increasing access for students and quality at elementary and middle school afterschool and summer programs. In January 2020, there will be an OST provider at every elementary and middle school in the city of Richmond and approximately 1,300 students participating in quality OST programs who did not previously have access.
As partnering organizations, we are committed to creating equity of access for all students. We recognize that the circumstances and challenges many of our students and families face require us to be strategic and innovative in aligning our efforts and investments to increase both short-term and long-term success, in and out of school.
We are making progress. Expanded before- and after-school and summer school programs improve academic outcomes, develop social-emotional and 21st-century skills, and inspire children to learn.
The impact of OST programs is critical for the success of Richmond’s students and families, and this collaboration must continue to grow and expand. Additional resources are needed to enhance the continuum of high-quality programming by building capacity and closing gaps in services to promote ongoing student development and reinforce in school learning. By creating a sustainable infrastructure to address barriers to access, collect and analyze data, and assess program quality and outcomes, we will ensure all students and families can benefit from OST.
This is just the beginning of a new chapter. It is our privilege to be part of this growing effort to create a world-class learning environment for Richmond’s children. It will require additional capacity and financial commitment to successfully sustain and scale this initiative to ensure all children have an opportunity to thrive. We are committed to this effort because our city, our families and most importantly, our children deserve it. As we join a national movement to celebrate Lights on Afterschool on Oct. 24, we ask you to champion and support our collective efforts to help ensure the growth and education of Richmond’s youth by supporting a local OST program through a donation, volunteering and/or mentoring a child.
Abigail Farris Rogers is executive vice president and chief advancement officer of the YMCA of Greater Richmond. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org Barbara Couto Sipe is president & CEO of NextUp RVA. Contact her at: email@example.com
Damon Jiggetts is executive director of the Peter Paul Development Center. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sean Miller is chief operating officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond. Contact him at: email@example.com
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