We know that kids from low-income families struggle to match their more fortunate peers in school. What we pay less attention to is the fact that kids from low-income families also struggle to match their more affluent peers outside of school. Expanding Learning, Enriching Learning, a study by The Wallace Foundation, introduces a variety of programs across the country attempting to narrow the gap by addressing the inequity of extra-curricular opportunities for low-income students, rather than the quality of traditional class time.
According to the study, kids from middle to higher-income families are more than twice as likely to be involved in lessons outside of school—whether academic, musical, or athletic—than kids from low-income families. Structured, extracurricular programs enrich children’s lives in a variety of ways, including building confidence and social skills, supplementing education, and expanding horizons. Recognizing the valuable potential for enrichment in after-school and summer hours, the five programs profiled in this study harness that time in unique ways to bring enrichment and opportunity to low-income kids nationwide.
All five programs (BELL, Citizen Schools, ExpandED Schools, Higher Achievement, and Horizons National) combine academic support with extracurricular instruction in after-school or summer (or both) programs at the elementary and middle school levels. Each program makes use of strong school-community partnerships to achieve various goals in their target communities. For example, Citizen Schools lends a novel approach to career awareness, bringing volunteers into schools to offer apprenticeship-type experiences, while Horizons National is focused on preventing the summer slide through engaging, hands-on summer programming.
While each of these models demonstrates promise and potential long-term payoff, the study also reports on hurdles the organizations face. In addition to the common challenge of funding, programs are faced with developing strategies for scale, building and sustaining partnerships with schools and school districts, and often operating in a culture focused primarily on students’ academic outcomes. Their experiences offer inspiration and lessons for similar organizations and traditional educators alike.