MONTPELIER – While acknowledging that there is still a lot of work to be done, officials on Friday celebrated the success of the state’s push for more after-school and summer programs for children.
Holly Morehouse is the Executive Director of Vermont Afterschool, a statewide nonprofit organization focused on supporting and sustaining learning opportunities outside of the school day. Morehouse told an event at the Vermont History Museum that this week, communities across the country participated in “Lights on Afterschool,” a celebration of after-school and summer programs for kids that has been taking place since 2000.
She said those in Vermont are also celebrating.
“We are celebrating today because after-school programs are a better way to serve our youth. Decades of research demonstrate the benefits of after-school and summer programs for youth of all ages. Studies show that children and youth in after-school programs attend school more often, achieve better grades and are more likely to graduate, ”she said.
In April, officials announced a plan to give children things to do during the summer after being locked up for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. This effort was fueled by $ 71 million from federal pandemic relief funds the state will receive over three years for summer and after-school programs.
Morehouse said that last summer, 93 programs received funding for 12,877 children and youth. She said 238 weeks of summer programs have been funded and 492 summer jobs have been created for high school and college youth.
“This effort has shown us that we can do it,” she said.
At Friday’s event, a handful of students spoke about how fun they had been participating in the programs and how they became more involved and interested in science, technology, engineering, science and technology. arts and mathematics, collectively referred to as STEAM.
But Morehouse said there was still work to be done. She said a study has shown that one in four young Vermonters who want to attend a summer program don’t have access. Morehouse said 39% of young people who want to participate in an after-school program do not have one available to them.
To that end, Gov. Phil Scott said he signed an executive order on Friday that would create a task force to build on last summer’s work. Scott said the task force is charged with the continued development of a statewide system to provide choices and opportunities for children from kindergarten through high school.
“We have to build on what we already know works and make it stronger. Make sure any child in Vermont who wants them has options after school and in the summer, ”he said.
The governor said the state’s Education Agency will work with Vermont Afterschool and the task force to put in place a program for the 2022-2023 school year. He said this program will reduce the gaps that currently exist. Scott said details of this effort will be available soon.
“Our hope is that this will be part of a multi-year effort to steer us towards a truly universal after-school program for all children that looks to the future. With the contribution of our young people, ”said Scott.
Senator Bernie Sanders and the rest of the Vermont congressional delegation were recognized for their efforts to secure the necessary funding for these programs. Sanders was in attendance at Friday’s event and said the United States lags far behind other countries in the way children are treated. He said that until recently, the United States had the highest child poverty rate among the major countries.
“I have to say that I think our child care system is dysfunctional and that we as a nation have only had scattered after-school programs,” he said.
Sanders said he was happy that significant progress has been made in meeting the needs of children over the past year.
He said he never understood what parents were supposed to do with their children when school went out at 2:30 p.m. or 3 p.m. and parents were still working.
“You need strong after-school programs, and I think we’re making headway in the state,” Sanders said.
While details are still being worked out, Sanders said the hope is that the social spending bill being drafted in Washington DC will include funding for universal preschool.
“This means that every child in the state of Vermont, aged 3 or 4, will be able to attend free universal public education,” he said.
Sanders said there are also $ 300 billion to $ 400 billion in child care plans, so no working family pays more than 7% of their family income. He said right now it costs around $ 15,000 a year for child care in Vermont, so a family earning $ 60,000 pays 25%.
In keeping with the “Lights on Afterschool” theme, Sanders and Scott hooked up a wooden “thingamajig” in the shape of the state of Vermont with lights placed at each location with a summer schedule. The display included photos of children participating in activities under these programs.
They were also presented with capes marked “After School Hero” for their efforts to increase funding and access to summer and after-school programs. Senator Andrew Perchlik, D / P-Washington County, and Representative Kelly Pajala, I-Londonderry, also received capes for their work on a task force established in 2020 to help kickstart the effort to increased programs for children.