If students like Carla not only had the resources to overcome imposing barriers related to cost, transportation, and knowledge—but also the networks of adults to help them access an array of enriching opportunities that resonate with their interests—more youth could realize their full potential.
Organizations across the country have begun to recognize the need to provide strong support networks and relationships for young people and their families as they seek access the out-of-school experiences that supplement their learning and their social and emotional growth. At ReSchool Colorado (where Amy serves as executive director), trained advocates, for example, provide families with the tools, resources, and agency to choose learning opportunities at, and outside of, school that align with their learning goals and aspirations.
We also see promising examples at organizations like OutSchool and Big Picture Learning that provide learners with the agency to shape their own online and in-person learning pathways. In the process, they can build relationships with industry mentors, community leaders, educators and peers within their communities and across the globe. Summertime, too, represents a critical period when students can access relationships and leverage an array of out-of-school learning opportunities that transcend the institutionalized boundaries of the school day. Tools like Blueprint4Summer, which originated in St. Louis and ReSchool brought to Denver, are also valuable because they connect families with the information they need to find free or low-cost summer learning opportunities.
Even in the face of a formidable opportunity gap, there are proven solutions. Building access to high-quality, out-of-school programs during the school year and in the summer, developing networks of dedicated advocates and long-lasting adult relationships; and leveraging the existing assets that our community partners bring to the table are just a few.
If we continue to ignore the opportunity gap that we know exists outside of the classroom, students like Carla and Jenna will remain on separate and profoundly unequal trajectories. Fortunately, there’s a better way forward.