Literacy in Out-of-School Time

Why is Literacy Important?

Reading proficiency by third grade is the most important predictor of high school graduation and career success (Campaign for Grade Level Reading). By fourth grade, students are reading to learn, meaning they read to understand more complex ideas in various subject areas, from social science and history to math and science. It's clear that reading is absolutely critical!

What is the role of OST in developing literacy?

The goal of literacy (reading and writing) in afterschool programming is to encourage students to be well-rounded communicators through lots of opportunities to practice their reading and writing in addition to the high quality instruction they receive during the school day. But it’s not just about reinforcing basic skills. In afterschool, programs strive to show kids and youth that literacy can be fun and a form of self-expression.

In out-of-school-time, not only are we helping kids to be better readers and writers, we are also trying to instill a love of and respect for both. This is done through activities that integrate literacy into other subject areas, such as a science experiment, and also through activities that use reading and/or writing just for the love of it, like storytelling or poetry. We have so much to offer in this space, and often the kids, themselves, are the deciders. There’s so much to explore in OST.

The Iowa Afterschool Alliance has developed a one-pager explaining how afterschool programs support literacy. Please use widely!

Innovative Model Spotlight: United Way of Central Iowa OST Initiative

UWCI Logo  

To more directly influence student literacy through enrichment in their service area, United Way of Central Iowa is investing in a special initiative of its Education Early and Middle Grade Success Strategies to infuse more high-quality learning activities into existing OST programs.

Through the one-on-one support of an enrichment coach and information sharing through a network of grantees, each program participating in the OST Initiative will identify and be trained on strategies that they can use long-term to promote higher literacy achievement of the students attending their program. The OST Initiative seeks to improve student achievement in reading and writing through the following goals:

  • Greater frequency of activities that develop literacy skills
  • Improved quality (quantity, appropriateness, and categorical diversity) of program resources available to support high-quality literacy strategies, including but not limited to technology, books, and curricula
  • Improved staff capabilities (knowledge and confidence) to provide high-quality literacy strategies
  • Improved OST program and school collaboration
  • Improved use of student-level data to identify and evaluate literacy strategies

A wiki site has been created to share information and resources in the grantee network and with interested stakeholders. Check it out at Only members (initiative grantees and administrators) can edit content.

For more information on the OST Initiative, please contact Michelle Rich at

In 2011 and 2013, the Iowa Afterschool Alliance partnered with Child and Family Policy Center, United Way of Central Iowa and several other organizations to host forums dedicated to literacy. These forums brought together over 250 decision makers to discuss Iowa's policies on third grade reading, specifically.

December 15, 2011 Ensuring World Class Readers (from left to right): Michelle Rich, Iowa Afterschool Alliance; Charlie Bruner, Child and Family Policy Center; Lis Buck, United Way of Central Iowa; and Ralph Smith, Campaign for Grade Level Reading

2011 Ensuring World Class Leaders Program and Bibliography
2013 Ensuring World Class Leaders Program

In 2013, the Iowa Afterschool Alliance and partners were recognized by the Campaign for Grade Level Reading for our work to support Iowa's community-wide efforts to improve early grade reading. We were presented with this special honor along with the six Pace Setter Communities that have been doing exemplary work on literacy locally. Below you will find one-pagers on each of the communities' efforts, first shared with participants attending the 2013 Ensuring World Class Readers forum.

For more on the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, visit the initiative website at

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