Out-of-School Time

Out-of-School Time Supports Student Health and Learning
Girl learning about plants in an afterschool program

Out-of-School Time (OST) is a supervised program that young people regularly attend when school is not in session. This can include before- and after- school programs on a school campus or facilities such as academic programs (e.g., reading or math focused programs), specialty programs (e.g., sports teams, STEM, arts enrichment), and multipurpose programs that provide an array of activities (e.g., 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs).

About 7.7 million US children head to after school programs when the school day ends.1 Young people who stay for after-school programming spend a large part of their waking hours on the school campus. OST programs provide youths with safety and supervision.2 Research shows that some OST programs can support student academic achievement2-4 and may play a role in reducing health disparities.3   Additionally, programs that follow evidence-based practices aimed at improving personal and social skills of youths are linked with positive social behaviors.4,5

Out-of-School Time and the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child Approach
Young kids playing street football outdoors.

What happens on school grounds—before, during, and after school—can have a big impact on a child’s health and learning.2,6,7 OST program leaders and staff are natural partners for extending the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child approach beyond the school day. Many OST organizations have adopted voluntary standards to help make physical activity and nutritious foods and beverages an everyday part of their programs.

Nutritious snacks and meals are important.

Children often arrive at after school programs hours after their last meal. Hunger and thirst can make it difficult for students to focus.7 Federal after-school programs and summer snack and meal programs have nutrition standards and can improve children’s diet quality and food security,8 which may further support physical and mental health and learning. A healthy school nutrition environment provides students with nutritious and appealing foods and beverages, consistent and accurate messages about good nutrition, and ways to learn and practice healthy eating throughout the time children spend on school grounds—including during OST.

Movement matters too.

Physical activity can  improve concentration and memory.7  Given these important benefits, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Institute of Medicine highlight before- and after- school programs, as well as physical activity clubs and intramural and extramural sports, as part of a comprehensive approach to increasing physical education and physical activity.10,11

Coordination between school day and OST staff and administrators can help provide young people with consistent messaging and opportunities related to physical activity and nutrition while they are on school grounds.

Coordinating health services can help support children with chronic conditions.

The health care needs of children with chronic illness, such as asthma and diabetes, can be complex—involving both daily management and preparing for potential emergencies. Improved communication between school health services staff and after-school providers has the potential to support the needs of children with chronic health conditions. Researchers and public health professionals are looking to learn more from best practices to support the needs of young people with chronic conditions in OST settings.

Connecting Schools with OST Programs

Disruptions to in-person schooling highlighted the importance of OST programs. This brief essay provides an overview of how school and community organizations partnered to address inequities in health and education exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Recovery efforts offer a chance to strengthen and sustain school–OST provider partnerships.

There are ways for school district staff and school wellness teams to enhance connections with OST staff.

School districts can do the following:

  • Invite key staff from school-based OST programs to be a part of the School Health Advisory Councils (SHACs) and School Wellness Councils and include OST program administrators on communications related to school wellness initiatives and policies.
  • Review local wellness policies to see how they address physical activity and nutrition before or after school.

School teams can do the following:

  • Use the School Health Index to guide planning efforts related to school health programming, policies, and messaging on school grounds—before, during, or after school. Engage afterschool program staff in completing assessments and developing action plans.

School administrators can strengthen partnerships with OST programs to support student health and learning.

  • Partnerships between schools and community based organizations are an important piece of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers.
  • Programs on school sites may have affiliations with organizations that are already committed to adopting Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) initiatives. These include National Afterschool Association accredited programs and those run by the Y (YMCA), Boys & Girls Clubs, or Parks and Recreation.13 Developing relationships with these OST providers may help to enhance local adoption and promotion of HEPA standards.
Types of OST Programs on School Grounds
Girl measuring her plant's growth and taking notes.

There are many different OST programs available on school grounds, including childcare, youth development, and special interest activities like robotics clubs, arts programs, or sports clubs. Different organizations can run these programs, including schools and school districts, local chapters of national organizations (e.g., Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCAs), universities, community organizations, and parent volunteers. Some programs run until the evening (e.g., 3 p.m.—6p.m.) and other programs operate using less time.

OST programs also vary in their staffing and leadership, available resources (e.g., equipment, funding, space, and professional development offerings), purpose, and contact hours with children. These factors influence the kinds of physical activity and nutrition policies a program can implement.12