Increased OST funding means equitable supports for students and stronger partnerships for schools
By Heather Hairston
If these past two years have taught us anything, it is that education extends far beyond school walls.The pandemic has highlighted how dependent families are on schools, not just for education, but for food, mental health supports, child care, and more. Schools have been bearing this incredibly heavy burden alone, and it is creating challenges around morale, enrollment, retention, and promotion.
But the Mayor’s proposed FY23 budget will help alleviate this challenge with the increase in OST funding, supporting programs that can partner with schools and become valuable and much needed supports for our students.
As principal of C.W. Harris Elementary School in Ward 7, I wanted to tap into the best OST programs and ensure equity. That began with meaningfully engaging our families and communities to ask them what they needed, so that we could stop making assumptions and better serve our students. Our work even earned us two Standing Ovation awards for Excellence in Family Engagement during my six year tenure, including the first-ever awarded to a school.
But challenges remain for OST partnerships throughout DC, especially around sustainable funding, access, and continued community engagement. The current reality is that investments in programs can be here one year and gone the next, which makes it difficult for programs to build partnerships with schools and students. Too many schools offer robust programming based on fundraising ability — through PTAs and other means — leading to inequities. Other challenges include transportation (so students are able to safely get to programs and opportunities); ability for OST staff to support students with disabilities; and flexibility (ensuring that opportunities exist at times students are able to participate).
As a city, equitable access to quality programming that can help support families, students, and schools must be prioritized. Equity is key here because as it stands, low-income and students with special needs struggle to access the programs that they need and want.
While I’m no longer the leader of a DC school, I am a leader of a partner organization that works with DC schools: the otherside of the critical partnership work.
Girls Inc. focuses on inspiring girls to be strong, smart, and bold, and works to ensure a more equitable future for girls and young women in the DC Metro Area. We have partnered with KIPP DC and Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science to host our Bold Girls Society workshops and Summer STEM LEadership Academy for Middle School girls.
We cultivate skills that translate back into the classroom and provide girls with an opportunity to learn to be strong, smart, and bold in meaningful ways outside of the classroom. These are critical skills we want for young people, and we know they matter. Partnerships such as these allow girls to gain these skills and allow schools to continue to focus on the plethora of other things we want girls and all students to learn. It’s exciting to be in a position to make a larger impact on the lives of girls and young women in our community. Our partnerships put us in the exciting position of being able to widely impact the lives of girls and young women in our community.
Partnerships between schools and OST programs help us reach students. As a city we need to ensure that we are continuing to develop these partnerships in an equitable way so that every student has access to programs that will encourage them to thrive.
Heather Hairston is the Executive Director of Girls Inc of the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area. She is the former principal of C.W. Harris Elementary School in Ward 7.