What older children do after school when parents are working has been, and is, a knotty problem that government and private sources are working hard to solve. In Boston and in other communities, after-school programs provide great benefits to students and to the communities the programs serve. Included: What makes an after-school program successful?
The number of after-school programs is growing at an explosive rate! In schools, Y's, and community centers, programs spring up to meet the ever-increasing needs of working parents for after-school care for their children.
Signs of after-school care boom abound. In January, President Bill Clinton announced that he wants to triple funding for after-school programs -- from $200 million in 1999 to $600 million in the fiscal year 2000. The $200 million in 1999 would support the development or enhancement of after-school programs in 4,000 schools, affecting 500,000 children.
Clinton tied his request for new funds to another hot-button education issue. He said that when granting awards under this 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, the Department of Education would give priority to schools that avoid "social promotion."
A city at the forefront of after-school programs is Boston, where Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced in March that the Boston 2:00 to 6:00 After-School Initiative would
Menino also announced the establishment of a special task force, to be chaired by a Boston entrepreneur. The task force will, according to the mayor's office, focus on program funding, program quality, and improving educational opportunities for young people.
According to 2:00 to 6:00 project director Eric Christofferson, 16,000 of 81,000 students in the Boston school system participate in after-school programs. The 20 new programs announced by the mayor will increase by 900 the number of students involved. The total number of full-time and part-time programs now is approximately 240; 43 of the 2:00 to 6:00 programs take place in school buildings.
"We've been up and running only since this past July," said Jennifer Davis, 2:00 to 6:00 executive director. "We base what we offer in our program on a five-month study that included interviewing hundreds of community leaders and parents. We learned that people wanted more than just after-school care."
"Parents," Davis continued, "wanted a safe learning environment where children could get help with their homework and extra tutoring, if they needed it."
Now, Davis said, 2:00 to 6:00 is "working on designing an assessment to determine the influence of 2:00 to 6:00 on areas such as literacy, improvement in reading, and truancy."
The B.E.L.L. (Building Enterprises for Living and Learning) Foundation's after-school program at the Lee Elementary School is an example of Boston's 2:00 to 6:00 programs. The program, which serves hundreds of kids throughout Boston, offers mentoring and tutoring programs.
Shirley O'Neil, the grandmother and guardian of Julian O'Neil, said that since participating in the B.E.L.L. Foundation's program, Julian is "reading and writing better, and he's becoming more creative and inquisitive and his self-esteem is higher."
What exactly happens to kids when they participate in after-school programs? According to http://www.ed.gov/pubs/SafeandSmart Safe and Smart: Making the After-School Hours Work for Kids, a June 1998 report produced by the Departments of Justice and Education, evidence exists that quality after-school programs can help
A nationwide survey, funded by the Mott Foundation, shows that the demand for after-school programs is widespread. According to results of the survey, taken in August 1998, 90 percent of Americans favored offering daily enrichment programs for all children. Eighty percent said they would be willing to pay more taxes for such programs, which include after-school programs.
Those surveyed, when asked about the hours after school, said they worried most about children's being alone and unsupervised, followed by peer influence and excessive TV watching. Only four of ten thought their communities provide the kind of programs needed to help solve those problems.
The results of the survey, said Department of Education secretary Richard Riley, emphasize why the Clinton administration has called for raising federal support for after-school programs.
Not all after-school programs take place in schools, although most, if not all, such programs include an emphasis on academics. One non-school after-school program is the Homework Club, "a place for children to go after school and before their parents come home from work, where they study, play and enjoy the amenities of home from 3 to 8 p.m." The Homework Club is a business venture of Pam Carrano in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., a small town of 8,000.
Why do kids need the club?
"A majority of them are lonely," Carrano told The New York Times. (See the Times story, The Homework Club, a Refuge for Children During the Hours of 3 to 8 P.M.) "Who wants to go home to an empty house? It goes against nature. Kids this age are social creatures."
Homework is the essence of Carrano's program. Younger children work in her basement, and older children work at the parish hall of a local church. Some children go home for dinner; others have dinner with Carrano.
The Homework Club is for middle- and high-school students who may think they are ready to be alone at home after school but whose parents are uncomfortable leaving them solo. "This is the age where they say they don't need you," said one mother, "but they really do."
Questions about the application package or competition involved in the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program should be directed to the Department of Education by e-mail (21stCCLC@ed.gov), fax (202 219-2198), or phone (202 219-2180).
Article by Sharon Cromwell
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