Wednesday, November 9, 2022

How Afterschool Programs Should Address COVID Learning Loss? Staying In Their Lane

Source: Photo by Ketut Subiyanto:

By Sam Piha

Much has been discussed and written recently about learning loss during the pandemic. Headlines like those below raise alarms among educators and parents.

“These are some of the largest declines we have observed in a single assessment cycle in 50 years of the NAEP program,” said Daniel McGrath, the acting associate commissioner of NCES. “Students in 2022 are performing at a level last seen two decades ago.” - Associated Press, Reading and math scores fell sharply during pandemic, data show

But children and youth suffered more than academic learning loss. They experienced trauma due to family death/illness, fear, and isolation. Two years of upheaval as schools and community-based afterschool youth programs, including those offering sports, the arts and music activities were shut down. Young people spent this time learning, playing and socializing from home. Virus outbreaks among adult staff and youth continued the disruption even after kids returned to school and afterschool programs. In addition to academic learning loss in math and reading, we also saw social learning loss, increased absences and behavior problems.

“Three years into the pandemic, K-12 students continue to face deep social-emotional learning (SEL) challenges. Now is a crucial time for districts and schools to address students’ social-emotional needs to help them be resilient, ready to learn, and able to succeed academically. Before students can recover academically, districts and schools must first address their social-emotional learning needs.” Hanover Research, Program Planning Guide, Social Emotional Learning

Source: Photo by Charlotte May:

“Adolescents coming of age during the pandemic have experienced social “learning loss,” and will need remedial support in social, not just academic, development, suggests new research presented this week at the Society for Neuroscience’s virtual annual conference.” – Sarah D. Sparks, ED Week


Allow schools and educators to do what they do best- teaching reading and math in ways that will impact test scores.

“Even as U.S. school districts return to traditional modes of instruction, K–12 students continue to face deep social-emotional learning (SEL) challenges — a reality that’s seeping into their ability to reach expected academic progress.”Hanover Research, Program Planning Guide, Social Emotional Learning

Instead of diverting resources away from learning that is kid-centered to academic activities, afterschool programs should stay in their lane and do what they do best:

  • re-engage youth with peers and promote the excitement of learning;
  • address social isolation by providing an environment of safety and belonging, and positive peer interaction;
  • provide young people a place where they can be physically active; 
  • build skills associated with social emotional learning. According to CASEL, these skills include:
    • self-awareness (this includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose and understanding your emotions and thoughts and how they influence your behavior).
    • self-management (the abilities to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation and agency to accomplish personal and collective goals).  
    • responsible decision-making (the abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations. This includes the capacities to consider ethical standards and safety concerns, and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being).
    • social awareness (the abilities to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts. This includes the capacities to feel compassion for others, understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and recognize family, school, and community resources and supports).
    • relationship skills (the abilities to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups. This includes the capacities to communicate clearly, listen actively, cooperate, work collaboratively to problem solve and negotiate conflict constructively, navigate settings with differing social and cultural demands and opportunities, provide leadership, and seek or offer help when needed).



Crafting afterschool programs around youth development principles naturally addresses issues of social learning loss and earlier trauma. 

“PYD has been defined as voluntary education outside school hours aiming to promote generalized (not just health) and positive (not just avoiding risk) development of assets such as bonding, resilience, social, emotional, cognitive, behavior or moral competence, self-determination, spirituality, self- efficacy, clear and positive identity, belief in the future, recognition for positive behavior, opportunities for pro-social involvement and/or pro- social norms.”BMC Public Health, What is positive youth development and how might it reduce substance use and violence? 

“Positive youth development (PYD) strategies offer ways to support and respond to mental health needs at different levels: promoting resilience through positive youth development; and adopting trauma-informed practices…” – National Center on Afterschool & Summer Enrichment, Supporting and Promoting Mental Health in Out-of-School Time 

To learn more about positive youth development strategies for afterschool, see Youth Development Guide 2.0. 

The Power of Us Workforce Survey is administered by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), an independent, nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance, both domestically and internationally. This reliable survey will be administered throughout 2022. 

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