Picture this: Demetrius, a stocky third-grader with dark curls and a plucky smile, stands with quiet interest alongside his peers at Anna Brochhausen School 88 in the Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) system. They are gathered, each in various stages of excitement, around a snow machine counting down the seconds. All attention is on their At Your School (AYS) Youth Development Leader who is describing the effect of wind generated through a soap-like solution. The group takes guesses at how much “snow” they’ll get to see on the sweltering mid-July afternoon. As the foam forms into fluffy flakes, the students jump in front of the machine with excitement and fascination, dancing as the tufts fly through the air around them. Demetrius is an aspiring ‘weatherman’. But, like many of the students gathered around the experiment, his standardized test scores and spotty attendance record flagged him as a student struggling to achieve grade-level milestones in the classroom.
There weren’t originally many support options beyond standard summer school to help Demetrius and his peers course correct until IPS and AYS leveraged funding resources to launch a unique summer experience tailored to boost learning for students performing at 25% of grade level achievement targets in reading and math. As the district’s longest-serving partner for out-of-school time programming, AYS stepped in to provide three weeks of full wrap-around summer enrichment for nearly 1,000 at-opportunity students and 3 weeks of full summer camp to just under 200 of those students. For the first time in a 40-year history together, IPS and AYS operated in tandem to provide summer school supports and full-service summer camp, including transportation – a critical barrier – for free to these students at four school sites on the north, south, east, and west sides of Indianapolis.
The goal of this opportunity was to showcase how important community partners are in supporting the whole child, and how school-based programs like AYS improve outcomes for Central Indiana students, including those at IPS. With this partnership, we tracked parent satisfaction by gauging their belief that: 1) IPS/AYS helped their child become more interested in school this summer; 2) IPS/AYS will help their child’s grades improve during the 2023-2024 school year; 3) IPS/AYS help their child became more confident in themselves; and 4) that their children’s behavior improved at home because of their summer experience.
The majority of the students who utilized this free, wrap-around summer learning and enrichment services also qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. When polled, most of the traditionally underserved kids like Demetrius had not previously experienced summer or afterschool programming due to financial hardships. This school year, nearly a third of the families who participated this summer applied and were granted financial assistance to enroll their child in AYS before and after school programming.
Financial assistance for AYS programs is almost entirely dependent on private and public funding through partnerships and sponsorships with businesses and community foundations. We rely on districts like IPS not charging utility fees to keep our program costs affordable. As a result, the organization is in regular need of resources to provide enriching academic experiences for students in Central Indiana. As Hoosiers, we want our state to be a safe place where all families can live and flourish. One of the best ways to serve families experiencing poverty in our community is to donate time or money to afterschool programs.
Long before I worked for AYS – At Your School, I was a newly divorced mom trying to forge a career with a young son in tow. I was in awe of the kind, compassionate, and engaging youth program staff at the IPS Rousseau McClellan 91 AYS site that were actively helping me make sure my child was well cared for. This program provided critical support to me as I worked full-time and pursued an MBA from Butler University. AYS and our caring staff helped grow my education and my career so that now, as the organization’s President & CEO going on nine years, I understand the difficulty of building a thriving life in Central Indiana and how necessary programs like AYS are to our community. Our programs provide students with the resources and care every child deserves. As champions of youth development, we play a vital role in shifting the trajectory of our students’ lives upward and onward. We support their academic readiness. We support their interpersonal skill progress. We support their whole-body, whole-mind wellbeing. We try to ensure that AYS FEELS like home, so we provide healthy snacks, they spend time with their friends, and they learn something new each day.
Now more than ever, youth need reliable places to spend out-of-school time. Before and after school program engagement has a lasting impact on a child’s academic success and personal growth. In August of 2022, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention sited that Out-of-School time program leaders and staff are natural partners for extending the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child approach beyond the school day. After-school programs like ours expand educational opportunities and facilitate relationships with peers and mentors that help give students living at or below the poverty line the support they deserve and that they need to thrive. Unfortunately, for every one child enrolled in an afterschool program, three are waiting to get in.
Children are our future, and investing in them continues to pave a path forward for our community. To support an afterschool program in your community, you can donate time, needed materials, and money. You can also use your voice with your local school board, city council or legislator. For students like Demetrius, these programs can make all the difference in helping them succeed both inside and outside the classroom.