- Former middle school students who participated in NextUp RVA, an enrichment after-school program in Virginia’s Richmond Public Schools, had an on-time graduation rate of 92% in 2021, compared to the district’s average of 78.8%, according to the organization’s latest report.
- NextUp began serving RPS in 2014 and has since worked with 1,950 middle school students in the district. The organization partners with 60 community-based providers to connect students for free with a variety of enrichment programs that relate to science and technology, arts and humanities, sports and wellness, mentoring, leadership and career readiness.
- RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras said in a recent webinar that he’d love to see NextUp serve all of the district’s middle schoolers in some way over the next 5 to 10 years.
NextUp’s data shows high-quality enrichment programs can significantly increase the likelihood of a student graduating high school even when facing barriers that can increase their chances of dropping out.
Over half of the students participating in NextUp had one or more risk factors to drop out of high school, but they made up a majority of students with outcome improvements from the program, said NextUp President and CEO Barbara Sipe during the webinar.
Additionally, 51.9% of RPS students are economically disadvantaged, according to data from the Virginia Department of Education. The NextUp report said this finding indicates students have limited access to learning resources outside of school, creating an opportunity gap that contributes to high school dropout rates, lower reading levels and middle school after-school participation.
The pandemic and its resulting pivot to virtual learning for an extended period of time nationwide served as another barrier to success for high school students. An estimated 3 million students stopped going to school altogether when COVID-19 forced a switch to virtual learning, according to the 2021 Building A Grad Nation report from the America’s Promise Alliance.
During the pandemic, Richmond’s NextUp program shifted to provide virtual enrichment programs for students, too, which Kamras said was a great outlet for students during COVID-19.
Students participating in NextUp saw improvements in attendance, behavior, and English and math performance, according to the organization’s report.
“This is something that we can all feel really excited about and proud of, because we know now we’ve got something that’s working in the city in a partnership model that we really can invest in to make sure even more children are receiving access to the high-quality providers that Richmond has,” Sipe said.
There was previously a similar after-school program in place before NextUp that fell on the shoulders of RPS middle school principals to organize, Kamras said.
“Frankly they have full plates as it is, so to have NextUp play that role is such a huge benefit to us,” Kamras said. “What it has meant is we have so many more really great local organizations serving our kids, because they have been able to take all the coordination, programming, assessments off of our plates.”
Kamras added that education cannot be done in a silo. “It truly does take a village and we’re blessed in Richmond to have a really wonderful village, and a big part of that village is NextUp,” he said.