The Key to Engaging Every Student: Building Greater Linkages Between National, State, and Local System Leaders


  • Hillary Hardt Oravec National Comprehensive Center at Westat
  • Brenda McLaughlin National Comprehensive Center at Westat



after-school, out-of-school time, state education agency (SEA), COVID recovery, American Rescue Plan (ARP), elementary and secondary school emergency relief fund (ESSER), statewide after-school network (SAN)


The COVID-19 pandemic illuminated how essential summer and after-school programs are for youth and their families. Policymakers took note of the needs and the evidence base, and prioritized stimulus funding to expand access and accelerate learning. American Rescue Plan (ARP) and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds were quickly released to schools through different mechanisms, initially prioritizing speed over infrastructure design. The funds were intended to fuel robust school–community partnerships to provide students who suffered from pandemic-related learning and developmental setbacks with comprehensive, high-quality programming; yet the timeline for planning and implementation often hindered progress toward that vision. This article discusses the challenges to scaling critical services, the strategies that states and partners are putting into place, and opportunities to strengthen relationships and infrastructure at the national, state, and regional or local level.

Author Biography

Hillary Hardt Oravec, National Comprehensive Center at Westat

Hillary Oravec is a Summer and Afterschool Project Lead for the National Comprehensive Center, contributing to the National Center's leadership of Communities of Practice and Engage Every Student partnership with the United States Department of Education and five national partner organizations. Hillary is also the President and Managing Partner of The Learning Agenda, providing leadership and oversight of learning community design and faciliation, technical assistance, and evaluation strategies for state departments of education, national and regional foundations, national organizations, and school districts. She served on the project team for The Wallace Foundation's National Summer Learning Project, managing district sustainability planning and the development of the Summer Learning Toolkit. She has also led strategic planning projects for the Birmingham Summer Adventures in Learning (SAIL), Central Texas Summer STEM Investment Hub funding collaboratives, and Newark Thrives! - setting the vision and goals for their governance, program and assessment strategy, and strategic growth.

Hillary previously directed the National Summer Learning Association’s strategic initiatives, research and evaluation, and community system-building initiative portfolios. During her tenure, she led high school program design-focused projects for the MacArthur Foundation, and with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the transition between middle school and high school to improve graduation rates. Earlier in her career, Hillary managed school accreditation and institutional research projects for Johns Hopkins University, and school, community, and university partnerships and initiatives for the P-12 Project at The Ohio State University.

Hillary received a master’s degree in educational policy and leadership from The Ohio State University and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and sociology from Kent State University and participated in international study programs in Yunnan Province, China, and the University of Leicester in England.


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