What kids learn out of school is also critically important | Opinion

Nicole Gordon (center), 11, and other girls in the “Believe in Yourself” project at the East Falls Boys and Girls Club work on setting goals.

If you had to guess: Children spend how much of their time outside of school? 30 percent? 60 percent? More?

Remarkably, our young people of school age spend 80 percent of their waking hours outside of school. After 3 p.m., evenings, weekends, holidays, summers — these hours add up. Decades of research has shown that our young people and our communities benefit from rich learning opportunities and activities during these hours, which we refer to as out-of-school time (OST).

Research also shows what we know to be intuitively true.  The right activities after school and during the summer contribute to improving academic performance, decreasing the dropout rate, preventing childhood obesity, lowering juvenile crime, and preparing students for post-secondary education and entering the workforce.

Out-of-school-time activities are a critical aspect of a child’s learning experience, and Philadelphians understand this.  That’s why respondents in the recent Mayor’s Office of Education community survey ranked OST programs among the most important ways to improve learning and education.

The mayor is committed to investing in our children’s education. As we return the School District to local control and ask for Philadelphians to contribute more to solidify and build on the district’s achievements and expand progress, we must be strategic and innovative in our investments – within and outside the traditional school day.

The city, School District, philanthropy, businesses, nonprofits, and community stakeholders are working together as part of a new citywide Out of School Time Initiative launched in 2017. Our simple, collective vision is to provide “more and better” quality experiences before school, after school, on weekends, and over the summer, especially to the children and youths who have the least access and who need it the most.

For the first time, Philadelphia has a multi-year vision connecting out-of-school time to educational goals for early literacy and college and career readiness. Our efforts are showing promise. Over the last year we’ve launched a robust data system, Cityspan, available at no charge to all Philadelphia providers of after-school and summer activities to share data and track progress.  In early 2019, we’ll be launching an online portal – a one-stop shop – for families and youths to search and find the right program for them. We’re also mapping the city to identify where we don’t have enough after-school programs, so we can target public and private funding to areas needing more, high-quality programs.

The city also received $2.1 million from the William Penn Foundation to research and launch evidence-based programs. Among the many crucial research findings — available at ost.phila.gov — was that one-on-one reading support had the greatest benefit on reading proficiency. We are now addressing that need.

The research identified a successful model called SMART, which started in Oregon, that pairs trained volunteers with children to read twice weekly for a total of 60 minutes and provides 25 books to children, free of charge. We are replicating the SMART model. Our program, called Philly Reading Coaches, is underway in three schools, working with more than 200 students and volunteers. The goal is to expand to 17 additional schools and sites by the fall and recruit 800 community and corporate volunteers.

So, if you are often left wondering what you can do to help to improve the education of young Philadelphians, we urge you to become a Philly reading coach. Adults and high school-aged youths can volunteer in their own communities to be coaches. Join us by visiting ost.phila.gov/volunteers or email prc@phila.gov to learn more.

Our success will ultimately rely on the active engagement of young people, families, and our communities — all of you.  Eighty percent of the day is, admittedly, a lot. But we are 100 percent committed to ensuring that all young Philadelphians have great opportunities to spend that time learning and growing, having fun, and becoming prepared for a successful future.

Michael DiBerardinis is managing director of the City of Philadelphia. William Hite is superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia