Afterschool Focus: Whole-Child Education and the Every Student Succeeds Act

For students to succeed in life, they must do more than master academic competencies. They must also have the social and emotional competencies to apply what they learn.1 To that end, the whole-child approach to education aims to fully prepare students for success in college, the workforce, and their communities by ensuring that all students are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.2 Many of our 21st CCLC programs have long offered a whole-child approach to education, and there is now a small but growing body of research showing that regular participation in high-quality afterschool programs is associated with non-academic benefits for students, including improved safety, discipline, attendance, engagement, and relationships, as well as the avoidance of risky behaviors.3

The whole-child approach to education has received even more attention with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act. To complement the continued significant focus on student academic achievement, ESSA requires states to incorporate a measure of school quality into their accountability systems.4 Examples include school climate and safety, student or educator engagement, absenteeism, access to advanced coursework, and postsecondary readiness. As states begin working to implement ESSA, the expanded focus on school quality and conditions for learning provides new ways for 21st CCLCs to collaborate with schools and communicate their program’s impact.

Whole child, whole program. While helping students develop grit and social and emotional competencies can be beneficial, remember to focus on the overall quality of your 21st CCLC program. Research shows that one of the surest ways to improve non-academic outcomes for students is to provide a high-quality afterschool program that students attend regularly.5 This includes clear goals; positive relationships with students, staff, and community members; and a program that reflects student input and interests. Use your evaluation to identify your program’s strengths and challenges and then work with stakeholders to develop and implement a plan to leverage or address them.

Show the role of afterschool in helping develop areas such as school climate and social and emotional development. If educators do not make the immediate connection between afterschool programs and school quality, remind them that high-quality afterschool programs can help create those conditions in which learning takes place: a safe and supportive environment, positive relationships with peers and adults, and the ability to self-regulate and manage stress. When these skills and traits are present in the afterschool setting, students are often able to transfer them to the school day.

Show the impact of your afterschool program. Be sure to collect evidence from your afterschool program, including student satisfaction surveys, behavior reports, and student attendance records.

Stay informed about resources and information for Illinois educators.
Find updates about ESSA, including the Illinois ESSA State Plan Draft and the State Draft Plan Highlights, on the Illinois State Board of Education’s website.

Learn more about the 5Essentials Survey, a research-based tool organized around the five indicators associated with student achievement. You can also explore ways to address the 5Essentials in your afterschool program.

Explore the Illinois Comprehensive System of Learning Supports, research-based indicators of effective practice that describe the structural systems necessary to promote optimal conditions for learning.

Read the Illinois Learning Standards on Social-Emotional Learning and learn more about implementing social-emotional learning in your afterschool program.


American Institutes for Research (AIR). (2015). Supporting social and emotional development through quality afterschool programs. Washington, DC: Author: Retrieved from

ASCD. (2015.) The whole child approach to education. Alexandria, VA: Author. Retrieved from

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., & Pachan, M. (2010). A meta-analysis of afterschool programs that seek to promote personal and social skills in children and adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology, 45, 294-309.

Osher, D. (2016, November). Conditions for Learning and School Climate. Presentation at ESSA’s Non-Academic Measure: What States Should Know About School Climate and SEL. Symposium convened by the Education Policy Center at the American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from

Pierce, K. M., Auger, A., & Vandell, D. L. (2013, April). Narrowing the achievement gap: Consistency and intensity of structured activities during elementary school. Paper presented at the Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting, Seattle, WA.

U.S. Department of Education (2016). Every Student Succeeds Act-- Accountability, State Plans, and Data Reporting: Summary of Final Regulations. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

Vandell, D. L., Reisner, E. R., & Pierce, K. M. (2007). Outcomes linked to high quality afterschool programs: Longitudinal findings from the study of promising afterschool programs. Report to the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Flint, MI.


1Osher, 2016.

2 ASCD, 2015.

3 Durlak, Weissberg, & Pachan, 2010; Pierce, Auger, & Vandell, 2013, April; Vandell, Reisner, & Pierce, 2007; American Institutes for Research, 2015.

4 U.S. Department of Education (2016).

5 Durlak, Weissberg, & Pachan, 2010; Pierce, Auger, & Vandell, 2013, April; Vandell, Reisner, & Pierce, 2007; American Institutes for Research, 2015.