Dallas ISD has invested federal funds in accelerating learning to compensate for disruptions caused by COVID-19. It has also invested in after-school programs that give students a safe place to explore their interests, as participation in visual and performing arts, service and leadership, athletics, academics and other activities can accelerate their overall success and social and emotional well-being.
Last year, the district used $3.3 million from Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to offer district-run programs—which operate five days a week from 3-6 p.m.—across 55 campuses. More than 3,100 students participated in these programs. The allocation continues this year, and initial feedback from school administrators indicates that these programs have been a “tremendous help in supporting campus goals,” said Merrill Devenshire, Extended Learning director.
The ESSER funds support supplemental staffing costs, transportation, vendor contracts and curriculum and supplies for the district-run after-school activities. Historically, Dallas ISD has relied on outside partnerships and vendors to provide after-school opportunities.
ABC, the Adventures and Beyond Club, is designed for elementary school students, while ETC, the Elite Teen Club, is focused on middle school students. During the three-hour blocks, students get a snack break, and then they engage in up to two different 45-minute lessons based on their chosen activity, whether that be fine arts, athletics or something else. When they finish, they eat dinner, clean up and head home.
“Everybody is focused on creating fun, memorable experiences for students, and all of those are learning experiences, whether it’s an extracurricular activity, an after-school program or lessons in the classroom,” said Sharla Hudspeth, executive director of Extracurricular and Extended Learning Opportunities. “These are all ways that we hope to get them engaged and loving coming back to school.”
Ultimately, the Extended Learning Opportunities Department is working to ensure that all Dallas ISD campuses have access to after-school programs by 2025, most of which will be completely free to families. The initial wave of campuses for the 2021-2022 school year was selected either according to a high priority campus designation or according to the equity index. This school year, the ELO Department will expand after-school programming by having campuses opt in, with a goal of incorporating after-school activities into 20-30 schools annually.
Hudspeth hopes the after-school programs will create natural downtime for students to receive tutoring sessions as part of the district’s overall pandemic recovery efforts. One of the biggest issues in tutoring is getting students to attend supplemental learning opportunities, but since they will already be on campus with transportation and food provided for their after-school programs, the transition will be more seamless.
“We are hoping we spark an interest to get students involved in extracurricular activities because we know those change the school experience,” Hudspeth said. “It’s really a multi-pronged approach: a safe place to be, support to our parents, but more importantly, a big support to our students, allowing them time to reconnect with their peers and to engage in different enrichment activities.”
To learn more about Dallas ISD’s district- and partner-run after-school programs, visit https://www.dallasisd.org/extendedlearning. To find out more about the district’s pandemic recovery efforts, visit https://www.dallasisd.org/esser.