Creating the Recent Force Field: A Growing Infrastructure for Quality Afterschool and Summer Learning Opportunities

Together with my friends, mentors and co-authors, Terry Peterson and Steve Fowler, I had the opportunity to think about the growing infrastructure that we call the “afterschool field.”  Below is an excerpt from the 2013 publication, Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning for Student Success, published by Collaborative Communications Group.

“Over the past 15 years, an increasingly vital and complex infrastructure has helped fuel and sustain the afterschool and summer learning movements. With the aid of both formal and informal intermediaries, this evolving infrastructure works to improve quality and increase access in order to help more young people catch up, keep up, and get ahead in engaging, safe, and supervised settings. This infrastructure has helped more than two million young people participate in afterschool and summer learning opportunities over the past 10 years.

No one agency, organization, or group is responsible at the community, state, or national level for the hours from 3:00–6:00 p.m. on weekdays or in the summer while most parents are working. Despite the increase in availability of afterschool and summer programs, 15 million children still go home alone with no adult supervision during these hours. Many schools, educators, families, and community- and faith-based organizations seek to fill these gaps with positive developmental experiences and expanded learning opportunities, but too often these programs can be disconnected, underfunded, and underutilized in many communities.

To meet these challenges, this growing infrastructure for expanded learning, both after the school day ends and during the summertime, provides the supports and resources that would be impossible for any single program or organization to create. Public funding has been critical, fueled by the growth in federal funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative since 1997 and in some cases by growth in state funding, such as California’s After School Education and Safety program. Notably, quality systems have grown exponentially with the development and the adoption of quality standards now established in more than 34 states….

[In this article]…we summarize some of the recent dynamics of this unique infrastructure by looking at five critical components of the current afterschool “force field.” This sometimes invisible but veritable force field of organizations, policies, funding, networks, and research creates opportunities and removes barriers to expanded learning opportunities for millions of young people in rural and suburban communities, as well as small towns and large urban areas nationwide.

FORCE #1: Federally funded 21st Century Community 
Learning Centers program

FORCE #2: Statewide afterschool networks: Coalitions for policy, 
funding, and quality

FORCE #3: Citywide systems: Coordinating data, dollars, and development

FORCE #4: Established body of research and evidence

FORCE #5: Building the movement: The Afterschool Alliance

The articles in Expanding Minds and Opportunities demonstrate the recent breadth, depth and growth of the infrastructure supporting quality expanded learning opportunities in afterschool and summers. Education, community and state leaders, as well as foundations and national organizations can and should now capitalize on this infrastructure to advance cutting edge learning and youth development.”