- On Wednesday, presidential candidate Kamala Harris proposed a bill to extend the school day by three hours. The purpose is to offer working parents safe, and free childcare until they get home from work.
- Some educators say the responsibility shouldn’t fall on already-strapped schools. It may be more feasible for local community centres, which have the infrastructure, to offer robust after-school programs.
- Some experts noted that while securing after-school childcare is certainly a challenge, many parents struggle even more over the weekends and during the summers.
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Juliet D’Ambrosio, 45, has six children who range in age from preschool to high school. Both she and her husband work full-time jobs.
The biggest scheduling challenge for the Atlanta, Georgia mother isn’t bedtime or even getting everyone out the door in the morning. It’s the hours of 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., the time between when her children get home from school and when she returns from work.
The standard American school day ends at 3 p.m., but many parents work at least until 6 p.m.
Because there’s no single after-school childcare program that’s conducive for all of her kids, D’Ambrosio hired a nanny who picks up the children from school and “supervises home life,” which includes activities, snacks, and homework. D’Ambrosio describes the situation as “prohibitively expensive,” but notes that she doesn’t have another choice.
“The school day is currently set up for a societal model we don’t have anymore,” D’Ambrosio, a senior-level brand strategist, told Insider. “It assumes there is one working parent and one parent who primarily takes care of the home and the children.”
D’Ambrosio said she doesn’t know of a single family that doesn’t face this issue, which isn’t surprising.
One in five children in the US do not have someone to care for them after school. One in four families in the US has a child enrolled in an after-school program. A quarter of American families go into debt paying for childcare.
Kamala Harris wants to extend the school day, so parents don’t have to pay for childcare, or leave kids home alone
On Wednesday, US presidential candidate Kamala Harris proposed a bill to address this issue. The senator, who was raised by a single mother, has put forward a federal dollar match program – with additional private or non-federal government funding – that would allow schools to extend the day until 6 p.m.
The programs would offer high-quality and developmentally appropriate enrichment opportunities for students.
While many working parents are desperate for an after-care solution, many may struggle much more over the weekends and during the summers, when it can even more challenging to find suitable and affordable childcare.
During the school year, some teachers say that the responsibility to provide afternoon care shouldn’t fall on public schools, which often already struggle to retain stellar teachers and provide academically rigorous curricula. Rather, some educators say, more funding should be put towards existing community centres, which already have the infrastructure, and can just expand – and improve upon – those afternoon services.
Sarah Joslyn Wahl, the director of teacher development and adult learning at a K-12 charter school in the Boston area, said that adding another major task to public schools would be a “mistake.”
Some educators say that responsibility shouldn’t fall onto already-strapped schools
“Medical care, mental health – all of those things would need to be available too,” Wahl said. “I can’t imagine a principal running a school from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. well.”
Wahl added that public schools should simply be expected to provide academic instruction, and that’s all. Some schools already provide extracurricular services, and in those cases, the programs could use some more support, Wahl added. But most schools aren’t equipped to shoulder the burden of an additional program.
The school where Wahl works offers a low-cost after-school program for students, but it’s run by a local YMCA – it’s just housed in the school’s facilities.
As much as D’Ambrosio would love to enroll her children at a free, afternoon program in the hours before she gets out of work, the mother of six shares similar concerns to that of Wahl’s. D’Ambrosio wonders how an after-care program could come up with a “one-size fits all” program that could possibly suit the needs and interests of so many different types of children.
Local community centres may be better suited to provide after-school programs
“We need public options for enrichment and out-of-school programming, but they shouldn’t be connected to the school,” D’Ambrosio said.
Still, Wahl lamented that the current system is just increasing the inequity divide between those children who can afford to go to fulfilling and age-appropriate after-school programs and those who can’t.
“So many families have options because they can afford transportation, private instruction for instruments, private coaching for sports,” Wahl said. “Those who can’t afford it, go into unstructured and non-rigorous after-school activities.”
While opening up the discussion as to how to solve the after-school childcare crisis is critical, experts say there’s a far larger conversation that needs to be had.
While many working parents may struggle to cobble together childcare during the week, low-income parents are likely much more stressed out once the weekend comes, if they work those days too.
During weekends and summers many parents struggle even more to secure childcare
A recent Urban Institute study of parents in the Washington, D.C.-area found that finding weekend care for school-age children is one of the biggest priorities for working parents.
For low-income families, those concerns are compounded over the summer – once school lets out and they may not even know how they are going to feed their children, let alone fill up their days.
During the school year, 22 million children rely on free or reduced-priced lunch. Over the summer, when school is closed, fewer than 4 million children are able to access those meals.
In the summer of 2011, just 7% of children from poor families attended summer camp, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
When children don’t have access to structured, recreational and educational programs over the summer, they regress academically, while their well-off peers who are occupied over the summer, continue to advance.
“The kids who can’t afford [summer programs] come back three months behind. They have slid back,” Wahl said. “That’s why the achievement gap grows year after year, because of compounded summer learning loss.”
Gina Adams, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, agrees that the problem of afterschool hours “needs a lot of attention.” But that we also need to put equal, if not more, resources towards solving childcare gaps at other times during the year.
“Certainly meeting the traditional workday needs is an important first step, but many families have needs beyond that,” she said. How do we support that in terms of employment policies and also in terms of childcare policies?”
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