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It’s All About Education: After School Programs Make a Difference

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

 

Lauri Lee

Over 10 million children attend an afterschool program in the United States today, up more than 50% since a decade ago. In fact, according to a report released by the Afterschool Alliance, more than 19 million parents say they would enroll their children in an afterschool program if one were available to them. Most parents have work responsibilities that keep them out of the house much later than traditional school dismissal times. Parents rely upon afterschool programs to provide their children with a safe and supervised environment, academic support, physical activity, and healthy snacks or meals. Afterschool programs nationwide receive funding through many sources: parent fees, federal funding, state and local funding, and grant funding. For the most part, parents bear the majority of the costs of these afterschool programs; the average parent pays $113.50 per week, with only one in five parents receiving government assistance.  

However, advocates for afterschool programs are very concerned because federal funding appears to be on the chopping block. As Congress revises the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), they are considering cutting funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program, which currently provides almost $1 billion nationwide in grants to states for schools to provide afterschool and summer programs primarily for low-income students. The newly proposed bill would remove all funding earmarked for afterschool programs and allow local education agencies (LEAs) to decide how to allocate funds to the schools. While LEAs could still use funds to provide afterschool and summer programs, they could also choose to use those funds for programs provided during the school day. Without funding specifically dedicated to programs operating outside of the traditional school day (including weekends, holidays, and summers), there is a good chance that those opportunities currently available to students will dry up. While wealthier parents may be able to enroll their children in alternative afterschool enrichment activities, many parents who rely upon programs that are offered in their schools with federal support will not be able to find alternative options. 

Today, 1.6 million children attend afterschool and summer programs that receive funding through the 21st CCLC program. Those programs are often partnerships with schools led by faith-based organizations, nonprofits, colleges or universities, and other community organizations; this arrangement permits school personnel to focus primarily on the school day, while also making sure that their students have the ability to participate in a quality afterschool program. The draft of the proposed bill allows only school districts to apply for funding. This will place even more pressure on our already overburdened public schools, forcing them to evaluate their priorities and likely decreasing afterschool opportunities. 

Years of research has shown that students who attend afterschool programs have increased school attendance rates, better class participation and homework completion levels, and often improved grades and test scores. Students who are enrolled in afterschool programs are also less likely to have behavioral problems in school and less likely to use drugs or alcohol. The afterschool hours from 3:00 – 6:00pm are the peak time for juvenile crimes and risky behaviors, as well as the time when kids are most at risk of being a victim of violence. A 1995 report found that children who did not participate in afterschool activities were 75% more likely to have used tobacco or drugs, 50% more likely to be arrested, and 37% more likely to become a teen parent. 

In Rhode Island, our afterschool participation rate is above the national average; in 2014, 22% of all RI students (almost 35,000 students) were enrolled in an afterschool program, up from 17% just five years ago. More than 27,000 RI students are alone and unsupervised between the hours of 3:00 and 6:00pm. The main reasons parents cite for not enrolling their children in afterschool programs are: preference for alternative activities; cost (too expensive); and lack of children’s enjoyment of the programs. Parents whose children were participating in afterschool programs were overwhelmingly satisfied (90%) with them. Rhode Island uses 21st CCLC funds to provide afterschool programming for over 10,000 students in over 50 schools. 

Eliminating or reducing afterschool opportunities for kids could have devastating effects on our communities. Providing safe, healthy, and enjoyable afterschool activities for students of all ages should be a priority in all of our communities, whether or not you live in Rhode Island and whether or not you have school-aged children. Many other countries known for their high achieving students – including Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Finland – have extensive afterschool programs. As with most educational programs in the United States, those programs cost money. Tell your Congressmen and Senators that we need dedicated funding for afterschool programs through the reauthorization of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program in the ESEA. Afterschool programs make a difference – and so can we.  

Lauri Lee is an independent consultant with over twenty years of experience in both public and private education, with learners from infants through adults. With experience in teaching, marketing, communications, social media, development, admissions, and technology, she is able to synthesize many of the issues facing our educational system today. She lives in Providence, RI with her family, a big dog, and a small cat. She blogs at http://www.AllAboutEducation.net and you can follow her on Twitter at @fridovichlee. 

 

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