Breaking Down Barriers to After-School Programs with Jodi Grant

Show Notes

On this episode, host Andrea Lovanhill speaks with Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance, a nonprofit public awareness and advocacy organization working to ensure that all children and youth have access to quality, affordable after-school programs. At the helm of the organization, Jodi works to ensure that out-of-school-time programs not only help students stay engaged and recover from the pandemic, but also provide their families with essential supports.

In this conversation, Jodi talks about the correlation between affordability and equity in summer learning programs, funding opportunities in the American Rescue Plan, the role of social-emotional learning in after-school programs, and supporting after-school staff.

Learn more in the special report, “Time for a Game-Changing Summer.”

To learn more about Jodi and the Alliance, visit

For more episodes of Grow Kinder, visit You can rate and follow us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Soundcloud, or Stitcher—we’d love to hear from you. And to let us know more about you and what you think of the podcast, take our listener survey.



[00:00:01] AL: Welcome to the Grow Kinder Podcast, where thought leaders in education explore how social emotional learning can help us navigate society's most pressing challenges and create a kinder, more compassionate world. Brought to you by Committee for Children.


[00:00:23] AL: Hi, Grow Kinder listeners. It's your host Andrea Lovanhill. Today, I'm joined on the podcast by Jodi Grant, Executive Director of the Afterschool Alliance as a non-profit public awareness and advocacy organization. They work to ensure that all children and youth have access to quality, affordable after school programs. Jodi is doing great work at the helm of the organization, helping to ensure that our school time programs can help students stay engaged, and recover from the pandemic, and providing families with essential supports as well as working in the field.

I'm excited to dive into the conversation today. It's great to connect with you Jody. Welcome.

[00:00:57] JG: Thank you so much, Andrea. I'm thrilled to be here.

[00:01:01] AL: I'm sure that there are a lot of avenues that we can go down to talk about your work. First just to give listeners some context for it. Can you share a little about yourself and the work that you're doing with the Afterschool Alliance?

[00:01:14] JG: Sure. I've been with the Afterschool Alliance, 16 years now, which is somewhat extraordinary. My passion for Afterschool began when I taught in a summer learning program, which was a real chance to inspire and engage kids in a setting that was outside school. I'm really lucky that I've gotten to have a career in this remarkable area. The Afterschool Alliance, we have a very simple mission, which is that we think that all kids should have access to high quality Afterschool and summer learning programs, and that finances should not prevent that.

Then across the board, we are constantly striving to improve what's happening in after school and summer learning programs. We strongly believe that where most of our kids spend at least 80% of their time, during COVID, it was 100% of their time, outside of the classroom. They are still learning and we can really maximize the opportunities for them to learn and grow during the time that they're not in a school classroom.

[00:02:15] AL: Yeah. Another thing that's probably helpful is what do you consider after school? Is it anything that takes place after school?

[00:02:23] JG: That is such a good question and the answer is no. It's not anything. There are many, many opportunities for Afterschool enrichment, which is different from a comprehensive afterschool program. You might have a karate club, or a soccer team, or a theatre production, or tutoring. A comprehensive afterschool program is something where kids have access to a host of enrichment activities. Often the older the kids, the more they have a say, and what those activities might be? It might be coding, it might be robotics, it might be tennis.

They also have access to homework help and tutoring. Usually a chance to accelerate if they want and [inaudible 00:03:01] and we do not believe that every child needs comprehensive after school programs who want it to be available. Then allow parents and kids to really have all of these opportunities in their portfolio of things they can be doing in those hours after school. It might also include jobs and internships, apprenticeships, for older youth.

[00:03:21] AL: I'm hearing a lot of themes there of well access. That it's available. That there's some level of personalization and understanding what kids and families may need from those particular programs and that they're able to get that. I know that in this past year, there have been so many calls for racial justice, long overdue urgent calls. That's really spurred a lot of organizations, and in particular Education Advocates to think about work differently, or to elevate work that they were already doing around equity.

I'm curious how the after school Alliance has really been thinking about equity and inclusion in your work. Has anything changed over the past year as you look at the effects of the pandemic, and the nationwide calls for social justice?

[00:04:07] JG: Our work has always been about equity and inclusion. The reality is and Bolivar research shows this, that for kids whose families can afford enrichment in afterschool and summer learning, they have it. Far too many of our kids are left behind, and that is disproportionately children of color, immigrant children. We have always been working to try to get public resources and philanthropic resources to support those kids in afterschool and summer learning.

I think that COVID exacerbated this difference. Far too many of our kids were unable to learn virtually for a variety of reasons. We also know from our research, that well clear kids were able to meet in person, for this enrichment in a way that kids without means we're not. I think that it's incredibly important. There's some amazing things that were going on in the afterschool field. It was our field that quickly morphed from after school programs to all day programs to serve the children of a central workers throughout the pandemic.

Then in many places, but not enough, the afterschool programs literally created what we call learning centers or hubs, where kids could go in various small pods and do virtual school learning. Then have access to safe enrichment that was socially distance and following all the CDC protocols.

I did want to add to and I think this is important, both pre-pandemic and during the pandemic. What are the most important things when we're thinking about equity and opportunities is also giving our kids a chance to be with a caring adult. That mentoring piece is really essential. That's one of the things that afterschool provides. Throughout the pandemic you had after school providers, many of whom come from those same communities have the same background as the kids were serving, checking in on kids.

Sometimes it was virtual, sometimes those by phone, sometimes it was in person to really make sure that the kids knew that they mattered. That we knew they were struggling that people cared. I don't want to overlook how essential that is, because obviously after school programs help kids academically, and they help them with all sorts of professional skills, confidence, teamwork, but that mentor piece is really some of the special sauce that really turns on that light bulb for a child.

[00:06:25] AL: Now, that's an amazing call out. That's something that's very connected to our work in social emotional learning. We think about having that trusted adult and the relationship that develops there and how important that is to positive healthy outcomes for children. I'm really happy to hear you talk about that.

[00:06:41] JG: I just wanted to add, because you mentioned that, and I think that's important. I'm on the board at the Search Institute, which is a fabulous nonprofit. They have done a lot of work on developmental relationships. One of the things they found, and this is reported by the youth themselves, is that the strongest relationships are in the afterschool space.

[00:07:00] AL: I think that makes a lot of sense and we've been looking at out of school time spaces, and we've developed a program for that as well and in our work with those providers. We really found that they were so connected to the communities and families that they served and very reflective of those communities and the kids were very engaged and it was such an enriching space for everyone involved.

I've definitely seen a lot of instances of what you're talking about here in Seattle, as far as those providers really stepping up to offer really necessary spaces for children in particular children of essential workers. That's something I really saw firsthand here. I'm thinking a lot, and I'm sure you are about summer.

There's a lot of schools that are talking about that, in the learning laws and how they're going to really help children have a summer that prepares them for return to school, and maybe some still unknown circumstances for a lot of those kids and families. With summer around the corner. In thinking about learning and social emotional well-being, you released a special report, time for a game changing summer. I think it'd be really helpful to just hear, what are some key findings from that? What information did you glean, that you help people engage more with?

[00:08:15] JG: What we found is that the interest in summer learning, I think it's a hybrid between summer camp, and I wouldn't say summer school, but academic learning. Kids can be learning and preparing for school by doing outdoor Ed by doing a theatre production, by having a Literary Club by doing coding or robotics. There's so many hands on exciting, engaging ways for kids to learn.

What we found is that more and more kids are involved in these kinds of programs. Just like afterschool, there's really an issue of affordability. So far too many of our kids particularly again kids of color immigrant children are being left behind from these programs. I think that this summer is a particularly exciting time, because for the first time ever, there is real money in the New American rescue plan. This is a COVID bill passed by the federal government to support summer learning and to support afterschool.

We have a chance to break down, what we heard were the two biggest barriers, which are costs and transportation. So that more of our kids can be in these programs. Then the other thing I want to emphasize is the flip of that, it's so important for our kids to be engaged. They've been isolated for months. We want them to have fun. We want them to remember their kids. They can be learning as part of that. We don't want to go overboard and we have to think about quality over quantity, because I think putting kids in a classroom all summer would be a grave mistake.

The Wallace Foundation has done a lot of research with Rand about what makes a high quality summer learning program. It really involves this hybrid mixed of thoughtful learning and fun. In many of the programs, you can have teachers that are teaching kids, but the teachers to want that freedom to do it in a different way over the summer. I truly hope that this summer, and it's not just this summer, because the federal dollars are available for the next three summers. That we can do something extraordinary for our kids.

Also not worry so much about catching them up, because they've been learning throughout this process. Getting them in a place where we can take the best of what we've been through and the worst of it, and have them prepared to move forward.

[00:10:37] AL: It sounds like you see that there's an opportunity for innovation around that, because of all the learning that we've had about, how children can be engaged not only in the long history of after school programs, but also in this unique circumstance in the pandemic and what was being done remotely versus in person. We also feel very strongly that, where there can be in person learning and engagement happening. That there's such a key aspect of that, that is play in social time and really helping form those connections and bonds between not only the children, but the adults in the space.

That leads me more into the space of social emotional learning, which is where we are really focused. I think it'd be really valuable to hear, how you think about social emotional learning, as it plays into afterschool programs for kids. How is it creating environments that are, or not creating environments that are diverse, equitable, inclusive, and really promoting child wellness or connection there.

[00:11:35] JG: First, I just want to back up with you and say that, I couldn't agree more about the in person piece, both as a professional and as a parent. It makes me incredibly sad to see what has happened this past year, because I think far too many of our kids lost those opportunities. I think that the cost was far greater than we could have anticipated. I do think that some of the things we're learning particularly with the afterschool field. I hope there's something we can embed going forward, so that we have a system that incorporates social emotional learning, in school, afterschool with more choices and more opportunities for kids that aren't just school based.

I actually see this whole vision of community learning systems, where kids can go to a variety of places and be learning and getting credit, including school, but beyond school. I would say when you talk about social emotional learning, I think it means so many things to so many different people. In our space the number one priority, which feeds into that is that kids need to feel safe, both physically and emotionally.

We need to create environments where kids support each other. Where they feel they're part of something bigger than themselves. Where they try to understand differences and embrace differences. Then I think there's some terrific, specific curriculum out there that really focuses on a host of the skills, whether it's collaboration, teamwork, there's a lot of programs now that are doing mindfulness and helping yoga, working with emotional control, far too many of our kids have suffered trauma.

Even more necessary, trauma informed care, which a lot of it is social, emotional learning to the next degree, and having that training to really work through that. I do think that listening and having caring adults is a big piece of that. That said, there are some terrific programs out there that are really focusing on curriculum that they can measure on social emotional learning.

[00:13:40] AL: Since you talking about that. Are there examples of afterschool or out of school time leaders or programs that you're really seeing shine through this very challenging set of circumstances?

[00:13:51] JG: Yeah. I think we're seeing it across the board. One program that comes to mind is LA’s best, just a little south of Seattle, where they have a really strong social emotional learning curriculum and trauma informed care curriculum, that they've been engaging with their children. There's another program called kid-grit, which is national that is really focused on social emotional learning. I would say we're at the point now in the field, where if you're looking at a STEM program, or you're looking at a program on writing. They're focusing on social emotional learning, too.

Looking at what are some of these non-academic skills that are so important? Can you have is another program right brain and I know that they'll have kids collaborate on writing a story. All of these skills that are going into something that you might think is an English academic skill, but it's actually incorporating everything else. If you look at something FIRST Robotics, and all of the teamwork and production, and this whole idea if your competitor needs help, you help them, because they might be your partner in the next round.

Go and provide whatever tools assistance they need. This is constantly being woven into what we're doing in a variety of different practices. I think that's really important too, because part of afterschool is taking that spark and looking where kids have passions, and then embedding the learning into it. I say another really hot spot in afterschool right now, is finding ways for kids to actually have a social impact.

A lot of that study in a group setting where they're learning a variety of skills and having a variety of responsibilities, but then they're advising, whether it's their school district or their community on meeting one of the needs and demands.

[00:15:40] AL: There's a lot there. Personally, you're making me a little nostalgic for after school programs that I thought did that pretty well for me when I was growing up. I definitely started out at a very young age and an after school program that was very much being in school like an extended school day. I was really young, and I have very clear memories of just feeling exhausted, because there is very much, you're still contained, you're still very structured and scripted, especially I think at that time in education and how classrooms were set up and how folks were thinking about behavior management and young children, some of those things.

When you unlock these keys that really recognize the power of having social connection, and play, and choice and how you engage in learning and involvement in the community that is seems so powerful in just thinking about that, and the growth of the after school space. Are there particular policy initiatives or things that are in the works that you think people should be paying attention to, to really help us recognize that benefit? You talked about the need around expansion.

[00:16:55] JG: Right. I think people should really, at the most local of levels, be thinking about partnerships. The truth is, these federal dollars that I'm talking about, the majority of these funds are going to local education agencies. It's going to be imperative that they reach out to other members of the community and work with your local boys and girls club or why or for age. I would say, work with your local businesses, because there can be internships and apprenticeships that are part of this work with your local faith based organizations.

Find who's already out there working with our children and youth, and bring those partnerships together, so that we can have something that's much more vibrant, and hands on and real and relevant for our kids. Both for the summer and afterschool when it continues. I also think we need to really think about taking care of our afterschool staff, because there are tremendous people doing tremendous things.

The reality is, as these programs get more and more sophisticated, our staff need more and more training too. I mean, they need training in trauma informed care. They need training and SEL, they need training in STEM, and they need livable wages. I think one of the things where focused on right now, this is opportunity to really do something terrific. We have a staffing shortage. Not only recruit but retain people in our field to create paths for promotion for people at our field. So that we can continue to do all these things and do them in a way that it really matters.

Then I would fly to the relevancy. 30 years ago, when I taught in an afterschool program. I taught English, but even then, my kids read the newspaper. Trying again, to make afterschool feel like something, it doesn't feel like school, but you're still using those skills. If you're interviewing people, you're taking photos, you're writing stories we're getting practice with all of those core academic skills. Then we're also thinking about all these other skills of interacting, interacting with people that might be different than if you're doing an interview.

Really using our space to do something that looks and feels different, and isn't exhausting for kids. I would also say, when we think about these comprehensive programs that I advocate for. I wouldn't underestimate the importance of meals. You know, far too many of our kids are food insecure.

Throughout the pandemic, afterschool programs did tremendous work with delivering meals and creating meal sites. We did a lot of advocacy to make sure that you didn't have that the kids show up to get a reasonable meal during the pandemic that we could deliver meals in bulk. If they're in a summer program or an afterschool program, that supper or that breakfast, lunch, and ideally snack or supper makes a huge difference to all around learning.

[00:19:40] AL: That's a great point. We work so much with schools directly or with districts directly. I know that some significant segment of those who listen to the Grow Kinder Podcast are school leaders, district leaders, educators in the classroom, and I can pull from a lot of what you said to get to this.

I wonder if you could encapsulate some advice for them, and thinking about how they work with or integrate more after school programming with their students? Because I think sometimes that's district drawn and sometimes it's not. There's such a variety of ways that they're interacting and probably not always in a very functional way. What advice do you have for that school, afterschool connection?

[00:20:26] JG: My first piece of advice is that, we know how much our schools and our teachers are under pressure. They should not do this alone. They should absolutely think of afterschool as a resource. I would encourage all of them, we've done a bunch of webinars at that focus on this and have specific examples.

Every community is really different. We did one webinar with Dan Domenech, who heads the superintendent for nationally for the United States, to really figure out what are the resources in your community to tap into. In some places, there's already strong relationships. I think principals can be absolutely key in this. Then some places, the relationships may need to be built up. We have examples and tools to really help that happen.

There's also 50 state afterschool networks. Every single state has a state network that can help with some of the technical assistance and ideas to get this off the ground. It could look very different. I've seen after school programs where they have tremendous partnerships with the local Native American community, to teach culture and language, particularly if the students are primarily of Native American Heritage. I've seen you might have a program where it's lassoing, and rodeo, because that's part of the culture in that community.
We really do want programs and schools to be connecting around what makes sense in their community for their kids. I'd say even in the tiniest of communities, there's some resources there and together, now there's some dollars to really get this right.

[00:22:04] AL: Let's say there are afterschool providers, those who are leaders of afterschool programs. How are you seeing them be successful and making connections with the community and understanding the needs of the communities that they're serving? Or really creating that connection between, because that can be difficult for schools I know. I've seen less difficulty around after school programs. What do you see there?

[00:22:27] JG: I was going to say, hire and train people from the community. You know, that's the number one priority. Sometimes in schools, we've seen some really innovative examples, many coming out of California, where you have some of the paraeducators and other educators who are from the same communities that kids we serve, who use afterschool as a stepping stone to become teachers, which is really wonderful.

Thinking too, about that experience of as we train teachers. The afterschool space could be a place where we do it. It can be a place where people can work while they study. I think it's really key. I think it's one of the things afterschool does well is hiring people from the same community as the kids, but we don't do well is we're hiring people from impoverished communities to serve impoverished kids, and we're not helping them themselves get out of that poverty.

Thinking about wages and benefits is a big concern right now. It's absolutely and in some places, we've been really successful in having older kids work with younger youth too. I think that's a huge model, where you have kids getting paid and trained to work with younger kids. Then I think that internships, apprenticeships, that whole model for older kids, is a great way to make everything relevant. Again, really connect our kids and our afterschool and our schools to the community.

[00:23:50] AL: Yeah, there's so much opportunity here. It's exciting to talk to you about it. I wish I had more time to explore all the nuances here. Maybe we could have you back at another time if you're willing to do that.

[00:24:01] JG: I would love to do that.

[00:24:03] AL: This is the Grow Kinder podcast. Something that I was just thinking maybe we'd close with is, I'd love to know, two things. First of all, if you over the course of your life, there was a moment where you experienced kindness that you felt really, maybe changed your perspective or created a mindset around how you interact with others. That's number one, and maybe want to tackle that first and then I'll ask my second part.

[00:24:27] JG: I did get to become executive director, the afterschool Alliance on my own. There are many people throughout my life that have been my mentors and have showered kindness on me. I think it's really important to play that forward. I would say that every time I mentor someone, every time I help make connections for them. My request to them, is that they do that for someone when they're in a position like mine.

I was thinking about that question, because it's really hard to narrow it down to any particular example. I'm going to give a shout out to a woman named Dr. Ann Boshart, who I adore. She and her husband, Michael. When I was in law school, and did not have a lot of resources, they did not know me. I was a complete stranger. They let me come live in their house in Oakland, actually, I was in Berkeley for a month so that I can intern for the Youth Law Center, working with incarcerated youth and getting education to incarcerated youth. I think that in many ways that helped shape my career and my passion for working with kids and creating opportunities for kids and help make that possible.

[00:25:38] AL: Wow, that's big to offer your home to someone, especially a stranger. Thank you for sharing that. The other thing is, when we talk about the kindness of others, or actually doing kind acts ourselves, you're saying asking for that pay it forward mentality and mentorship. We sometimes forget being kind to ourselves. You have quite a lot of work that you're doing in this space. You're trying to be a field leader move some of these initiatives forward for children and supporting this field. What do you do for yourself? How do you practice kindness for yourself on that journey?

[00:26:12] JG: That's a good question. That's a hard question, because I think so many of us and I talk for myself and for my team, because I think it's really important for the extraordinary team I work with. We are so caught up in the work that we don't take time for ourselves. I would take for me, one of my big releases is exercise. I like to bike or run. Sometimes it's hard to find time for that. I think that's a constant challenge. Sometimes, if I can make the time for a good book something that clears my head that really helps.

[00:26:41] AL: Thank you so much for being with us today. Is there anything else you'd to share before we go?

[00:26:48] JG: I just want to add for all of your listeners, that we have a wealth of resources, tools, and examples of all of these partnerships for schools and afterschool and out of school. We have curriculum that is virtual. We have curriculum that is safe and socially distant for those places where we're still worried about COVID. We're working with the CDC on guidelines all the time. Please use our resources, they're free,

[00:27:17] AL: There any other places they should go to learn more about your work, or the main website is primarily.

[00:27:23] JG: I would say, the main website, and then there's one called that we also have put out there to really help spur some of this possible growth in afterschool, one summer learning.

[00:27:35] AL: All right. Thank you so much. I know that's going to provide folks with a lot of good resources. We appreciate you sharing that and we appreciate your time today. Thank you for all you're doing to really advance this field, which I think is incredibly important for the social emotional well-being of children and families. Thank you.

[00:27:51] JG: Well, a huge thank you for allowing me to share.