As the Governor’s School Transition Reopening and Redesign Taskforce works to provide recommendations to Gov. Sununu, the Department of Education and local school districts for the upcoming 2020-2021 school year, we need to consider the reality that the school environment will be very different for everyone, including an increased reliance on afterschool programs.

Afterschool programs are a critical component in getting students back to school, parents back to work, and New Hampshire’s economy back on track. However, extended school closures due to COVID-19 has put our afterschool programs at risk of losing funding and the professionals that run them. As of this writing, of the 225 programs for school-aged children across New Hampshire, 220 are closed/unknown.

According to a recent National Afterschool Association survey of afterschool programs, three in four programs are not operating as usual and another 12 percent expect to cease operations. Seventy-five percent of respondents are either at risk of losing staff or at risk of closing due to funding losses from COVID-19. And yet many afterschool programs have stepped in where they can, 16 percent of programs are providing care for children of essential workers, 78 percent are serving youth remotely and finding alternate ways to stay connected, and 37 percent are serving as a meals site or distributing other resources to families.

Afterschool programs are truly important to New Hampshire youth and families. Before the pandemic, 35,302 students in New Hampshire’s K-12 were enrolled in an afterschool program, with almost another 61,000 waiting for an available spot in a program and more than 46,000 students finding themselves alone and unsupervised after school. Studies consistently show that children in afterschool programs get excited about learning, attend school more often, get better grades and build foundational skills like communication, teamwork and problem-solving.

Afterschool programs serve children of all ages throughout New Hampshire providing academic support, mentoring, youth development, arts, sports and recreation opportunities critical to their development and often can help bridge important academic and achievement gaps. These programs generate positive outcomes for our children and our communities’ benefit when our youth have safe places, caring adults, and enriching activities when parents are still at work. In fact, 84 percent of New Hampshire parents say afterschool programs help them keep their jobs.

This coming fall, the N.H. Afterschool Network foresees an even greater need for afterschool programs. As parents return to their places of work, or perhaps find themselves among the millions of Americans looking for work, they will need the support, security and caring environment that afterschool programs provide for their children.

The gap between work and school schedules can be up to 25 hours per week, with the possibility of this gap growing based on the new health requirements in the fall. As school districts figure out what school will look like, afterschool programs will be called upon to fill in gaps for one-day-on, one-day-off or staggered half-day shifts scenarios. More children will need a safe place to stay when school is not in session and more staff will be required to accommodate longer “out-of-school” hours and any CDC recommendations as to social distancing and class sizes.

Education and afterschool programs need the same emergency infusion of resources and money that hospitals, airlines and other businesses have already received. If not, we risk impacting an entire generation of children.

To learn more about how you can help safeguard afterschool programs in New Hampshire, visit the New Hampshire Afterschool Network at www.nhafterschool.org.

Kimberly Meyer is the project lead for the N.H. Afterschool Network in Bedford.