The state of education in the United States took a hit this summer when the National Institute for Educational Progress released the latest results of its national report card. The test, which serves as the national standard for assessing student academic readiness, continues to show declines in math and reading performance among fourth- and eighth-graders across the nation and in South Carolina from 2019 to 2022. It became clear.

Despite recovery efforts, academic performance has not returned to pre-pandemic performance. Even more worrying are indicators that young people are less engaged or disengaged with learning and are missing more days of school.

The pandemic wreaked havoc on our education system, especially in our most under-resourced communities, and we knew that academic recovery would be a historic challenge. But across South Carolina, there are still untapped opportunities to invest in support programs that have the power to rapidly improve student achievement and classroom engagement.

School districts have one year left until the September 2024 deadline to disburse the third and largest amount of ESSER III dollars in federal pandemic relief funds received as part of the 2021 American Rescue Plan. According to the South Carolina Department of Education, the district still has more than $1 billion left.

Before time runs out, we urge school districts across the state to devote available funds to afterschool and summer programs to support student well-being and academic growth.

ESSER III guidelines require school districts to spend at least 20% on remediating student learning loss. Afterschool and summer programs do just that.

Children who participate in these programs are exposed to experiences they wouldn’t get in other programs, such as coding and music production, which help them gain confidence and reach their full potential. They build life and work skills such as teamwork, communication, and problem solving. All of these experiences foster academic growth and promote social and emotional development.

Teachers agree on the benefits, reporting that students who participate in after-school programs are more interested in learning, behave better in class, and complete their homework. And a new national poll shows more than three in four voters want local governments and schools to invest COVID-19 relief funds in after-school and summer programs.

More than 100,000 children are currently participating in afterschool and summer programs in South Carolina. If the program were available, more than 300,000 people would enroll. Many students live in underserved and underrepresented communities and face barriers to participation due to cost, lack of transportation, and lack of available programs. Masu.

An organization that provides afterschool and summer programs in rural Horry County was able to double its enrollment last year with the help of a grant administered by the SC Afterschool Alliance. The Finklea Family After School team focuses on grade-level standards in English and math, tailoring instruction to students’ individual needs and helping to close knowledge gaps. Previously, this program served 35-50 students, but now he serves an average of 85 students per day. Still, the summer program still had a waiting list of applicants.

South Carolina school districts still have millions of dollars available for academic recovery. If even a small percentage of them can invest in supporting and expanding afterschool and summer programs, the results could be transformative for generations of students.

The SC Afterschool Alliance is here to help school districts and local governments partner with experienced and trusted providers across the state, just as we have done for more than 20 years. Together, we can seize this opportunity and provide our students with the support they need to build a bright future.

zelda waymer I am the CEO of the South Carolina Afterschool Alliance.

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