United Way of R.I. report shows massive need for after-school learning programs

PROVIDENCE – For the 34,704 Rhode Island students engaged in after-school learning, there are another 37,471 who would participate in a program if one were available to them, according to a report released last week by the United Way of Rhode Island’s Rhode Island Afterschool Network.

That was one of the key findings of the report on after-school and summer learning programs in Rhode Island. The report was the focus of Rhode Island Afterschool Network’s Lights On Afterschool summit attended by more than 300 school and state leaders on Oct. 24.

The United Way said the findings demonstrate a model vital to the overall solution of closing the achievement gap among certain groups of students in statewide testing. Despite the benefits of the programs and demand among families and youths, it is a lack of funding that minimizes access and reach to after-school programs, the United Way said.

“After-school alone can’t improve low test scores, but the results they do have in our core cities – more students staying in school, graduating and pursuing college, social and emotional development – are clearly evident,” Larry Warner, United Way of R.I.’s director of grants and strategic initiatives, said in a news release. “These programs are a vital component to helping our [youths] do their best, and we must do what’s needed to make them available to every child.”

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In 2018, Rhode Island schools and community-based organizations requested $7.3 million to help fund “out-of-school time” programs; only $2.7 million of which was able to be funded, leaving tens of thousands of students without a program opportunity, the report said. One of the missed opportunities prominent in the report’s data on the impact of “out-of-school time” programs on high school graduation rates. Of the hundreds of students who participated in programs offered by College Visions, New Urban Arts, Riverzedge Arts, and Young Voices, more than 96% completed high school.

“The data shows that not only do these programs work, but kids and families really need them,” said Angela Bannerman-Ankoma, executive vice president and director of community investment at United Way. “There is great work being done, but in order to take that next step, we need to appoint a state director of OST programming and create a dedicated funding stream for these programs like our neighboring states have done.”