As your ongoing coverage of COVID-19’s effect on our schools has amply demonstrated, the pandemic has significantly increased the stresses on parents, students and educators alike.

Sadly, it has also exacerbated unmet demand for after-school programs, here and around the nation. New research from the Afterschool Alliance’s America After 3 p.m. report demonstrates that even before the pandemic, parents were having a difficult time finding affordable after-school programs for their children.

In North Carolina, for every child in an after-school program, the parents of three more said they would enroll their child if they could. Now, because of the pandemic, many after-school providers say the future of their programs is uncertain as they strain to meet the growing needs of students trying to adapt to virtual learning and families struggling in the economic downturn, while also covering the costs of new safety protocols.

After-school programs are playing a vital role during the pandemic, educating and caring for children of essential workers and working virtually and in-person to help keep kids on track in school and support their social and emotional health. We’ll need such programs even more as the nation’s economy recovers so students can catch up and thrive, and working parents can have confidence that their children are constructively engaged under the watchful eyes of caring adults every afternoon.

Emily Neff, director of Youth Development, W.A.M.Y. Community Action, Inc.

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