How do you see the fellowship helping you, both at the state level and national level, in fostering better opportunities in afterschool and summer programs for young people, either in North Carolina or now in all 50 states?

Reflecting on my experience as a fellow, I entered the role of lead of the North Carolina Statewide Afterschool Network, the North Carolina Center for Afterschool Programs, in 2017. As a network lead, I learned about the White-Riley-Peterson (WRP) Policy Fellowship shortly thereafter and was thrilled to be accepted into the 2018-2019 cohort.

While there were other fellowships, like the Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP) that provided a broad scope of education policy, the WRP Fellowship focused primarily on afterschool and summer learning policy. As the new network lead in North Carolina, I thought it would be essential for me to increase my awareness and understanding of the broader out-of-school time policy landscape. It was customary for the 50 State Afterschool Networks to engage in an array of advocacy efforts, and I was admittedly timid about advocacy and engagement with policymakers early on. I was eager to be a WRP Policy Fellow to connect with experts in the field nationally, gain an awareness and understanding of key legislation, and enhance my confidence in making the case for afterschool. I am excited to say that I can easily make the case for afterschool now, and I’m thankful to the WRP Policy Fellowship for that!

How has your experience in the fellowship helped you in your current role at the U.S. Department of Education?

All WRP policy fellows come from various out-of-school time backgrounds and serve in an array of roles at the local, state, and national levels. During the time of my fellowship, I was serving at the state level and observed how critical partnerships were for afterschool and summer learning programs within North Carolina. In my current role as a STEM Next Opportunity Fund fellow, I serve as the out-of-school time advisor in the Office of the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education. In that capacity, I work to coordinate and drive the Department’s Engage Every Student initiative. The initiative aims to ensure that every student nationwide has the opportunity to engage in high-quality afterschool and summer learning programs and highlights the essential role of cross-sector partnerships at the national, state, and local levels.


For many people, especially those in leadership positions, understanding the importance of policy and navigating diverse levels of government is crucial. How did the fellowship help you in this aspect, especially considering the impacts of the pandemic on the field?

As the nation transitioned to pandemic recovery efforts, the out-of-school time field witnessed the historic opportunity that the American Rescue Plan and pandemic relief funds provided to address the unmet demand detailed by the America After 3PM Report – with nearly 25 million students nationwide not having access to high-quality afterschool and summer learning programs. As a result of the American Rescue Plan and increased investments in afterschool and summer learning, we have seen how the cultivation of new partnerships across sectors, especially those between local districts, city municipalities, and community-based organizations, have resulted in increased access to out-of-school time programs for students that otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to participate. This increased access to afterschool and summer learning programs has proven instrumental in helping students recover from learning loss by fostering engagement, offering opportunities for exploration and skill development, and supporting their overall wellbeing.


Moving into positions, advancing, and being recognized often require credentials and professional capacities. How did the fellowship contribute to building your professional credentials and capacities?

The WRP Policy Fellowship contributed to my professional credentials and capacities in numerous ways. First, I must acknowledge Terry Peterson and Cathy Stevens because they were strong sources of support and direction for me as a fellow and continue to serve in that capacity. They saw my passion for out-of-school time and were instrumental in my learning about the STEM Next Opportunity Fund Fellowship. Additionally, the WRP Policy Fellowship provides a network where fellows can connect with other fellows and field experts at the national level. The camaraderie and connectivity within the fellowship is second to none. Beyond that, the fellowship addressed a gap in my toolbox. I had an extensive background in youth development and education research and policy, but I lacked a deep understanding of out-of-school time policy. The fellowship filled that gap, and the 10-month experience, along with ongoing webinars, continually adds to my toolbox as it pertains to advocacy and policy for the out-of-school time field.


Often, people overlook the importance of personal connections and relationships in education. How crucial is it to have those connections, especially with national experts, and how did the fellowship facilitate this?

In education, relationships matter, and the fellowship provides a platform for building and maintaining these relationships. The WRP Policy Fellowship, now consisting of close to 200 fellows nationwide, is a network comprising state afterschool network staff, out-of-school time professionals, and education advocates. The fellowship, by design, cultivates lasting connections. In fact, I often have the opportunity to connect with WRP fellows at conferences and national convenings. WRP fellows are everywhere!

During the 10-month fellowship, the topics that we explore feature experts in the out-of-school time field. The professional connections with national experts, including Ron Fairchild, Cat, Terry, and others, have been invaluable. You cultivate relationships with them as fellows and have the opportunity to connect with them beyond the fellowship to get advice, share successes and challenges, and, of course, to celebrate wins for the out-of-school time field.


Looking back at your time in the fellowship, were there specific ah-ha moments or key takeaways that had a significant impact on you?

Absolutely! One key takeaway for me was sparked through my project, where I looked at the Roadmap of Need, which is a publication released by the Public School Forum of North Carolina, that identifies areas of need and the greatest potential for growth across the state of North Carolina as it pertains to youth wellbeing. For my project, I overlapped that year’s Roadmap of Need report with the network’s Mapping Database of Out-of-School Time Programs which revealed gaps in access to high-quality out-of-school time programs in areas across the state with the greatest need.

In addition to this crosswalk of data, my project also had a focus on advocating for funding for afterschool and summer learning programs within the state. At that time, the state of North Carolina’s re-appropriation of the Extended Learning and Integrated Student Supports (ELISS) grant was uncertain. I was thrilled after my fellowship to learn that the North Carolina General Assembly reappropriated the ELISS grant at $6 million for FY2019-2021.


Reflecting on your broader impact, how important is the White-Riley-Peterson fellowship in advancing opportunities for young people across America?

Before addressing the fellowship’s impact, it is essential for me to acknowledge the impact that access to high-quality afterschool and summer learning programs has on students and families nationwide. Out-of-school time programs accelerate students’ academic growth, support their wellbeing, and provide them with opportunities to explore their passions and interests. Additionally, afterschool and summer learning programs provide working families with peace of mind, knowing that their children are safe and engaged in fun learning activities after the school day ends and during the summer months. Consequently, the impact of out-of-school time programs is immeasurable.

As for the White-Riley-Peterson Policy Fellowship, its significance lies in bringing together passionate cohort members serving in out-of-school time across the nation. The fellowship provides every fellow with additional tools for their toolbox, regardless of their role within the field. Simply put, the fellowship enhances the advocacy skills of individuals who already possess immense passion and an unwavering commitment to the field. Additionally, the fellowship empowers fellows to advocate for the field by amplifying their voices and the voices of others. Ultimately, this amplification results in increased access to out-of-school time programs wherein students thrive!