Looking Beyond the Classroom to Get Students Back into Learning

Looking Beyond the Classroom to Get Students Back into Learning

Looking Beyond the Classroom to Get Students Back into Learning

A note from Ron Ottinger, Executive Director STEM Next Opportunity Fund

learning-at-homePhoto by Julia M Cameron

Everywhere we turn, we see headlines and stories hyper-focused on student “learning loss” with the release of daunting new data assessing student learning. It can be overwhelming at best. 

However, this moment gives us the opportunity to address the issues with the proven measures we know work. Afterschool and summer learning opportunities are a meaningful way to re-engage and support our youth.


Invest beyond traditional school. Students spend 80% of their time in spaces outside the classroom. 

Let us meet students where they are and invest in those spaces to amplify our reach. Despite the 10 million students enrolled in out of school programming, 60% of students are still waiting for an opportunity.OST-funding

Investments make a real difference for students, especially our most underserved. Recently, the U.S. Department of Education announced a $220 million dollar investment in student recovery support to bolster the funds from the American Rescue Plan. Allocations include technical assistance, support and resources to help states, districts and families find and leverage out of school programming opportunities. 


Afterschool continues to be a powerful resource for families during the pandemic 

Afterschool providers navigated a formidable crisis for millions of families throughout the nation from the start of the global pandemic. Programs were trusted sources of healthy and safety guidelines in rapidly changing circumstances. They served as child care providers for essential workers and food distribution centers for the hungry. 

Programs also adjusted to deliver learning virtually as best as the resources, staffing and student connections allowed them. However, the inconsistency of student learning over the last two years – virtual, in-person, hybrid, school shutdowns – has undeniably shifted student learning outcomes and impacted students’ mental and physical health.

Parents continue to report the positive impact afterschool and summer programming has on their children. These programs give students an opportunity to engage with peers safely, participate in physical activity and offer spaces to learn from and connect with essential adult mentors. The evidence shows  that afterschool can promote noncognitive, developmental outcomes for young people, leading to success in behaviors at school and later in life. 

spark-learning   Photo by Charles Parker

Out-of-school opportunities spark excitement in unique and important ways

STEM can be used to spark a curiosity in students that can inspire a lasting love of learning. However, this can be difficult within a school day due to the numerous demands on teachers and students and limited access to resources, especially with added stressors from COVID-19.  

Afterschool and summer programs provide unique opportunities for students to explore technology and science in a hands-on way that engages learners, yielding new interests that families and educators can work together to cultivate further. Programs can also leverage community resources that shine a new light on what STEM is in everyday life. 

As we look to the future of learning in our new reality, we must include learning beyond the classroom as a necessary pillar of student learning. Stay connected to STEM Next for more information and ways to support student learning beyond the classroom around the nation.