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Wire Side Chat: Schwarzenegger Seeks to 'Terminate' the Danger Zone With After-School Programs


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Long known as a successful actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger in recent years also has become an influential activist. The beneficiaries of his efforts? Children! For more than a decade, building on his past experience and his years of service to Special Olympics, Schwarzenegger has turned his attention to after-school programs for children. In this Wire Side Chat, he tells Education World how he became involved with this important issue in education and why he feels after-school programs should be available to every child. Included: Schwarzenegger contrasts his early childhood with the experiences of today's youth.


Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger
(Photo courtesy of joinarnold.com.)

Arnold Schwarzenegger, an actor who has starred in such major films as Total Recall, Collateral Damage, and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (scheduled for release in the summer of 2003), has played a number of tough characters throughout the years, creating roles that have become well known to movie audiences around the world. But in his work with children, the man who starred as Conan the Barbarian and the Terminator may more closely resemble the role as a teacher he assumed in Kindergarten Cop.

Schwarzenegger, the father of four children, has long devoted his free time to working with and for children. Active in the Special Olympics since 1979, Schwarzenegger also has served as chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness. During the past decade, however, his efforts have focused more closely on programs that target children when they're most vulnerable -- the hours immediately after the school day ends.

The Afterschool Alliance, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of after-school programs, estimates that 28 million children in the United States live with a single working parent or with two parents who work outside of the home and that more than 15 million of those children have no place to go after school.

In the early 1990s, in an effort to provide services for such children, Schwarzenegger co-founded the Inner City Games Foundation, a program that today serves more than 200,000 students in 15 cities nationwide. He also established Arnold's All-Stars, an after-school program for kids in middle school.

Currently, Schwarzenegger is the national chairman of Lights On Afterschool!, an event sponsored by the Afterschool Alliance, which is designed to draw attention to the importance of quality after-school programs in children's lives.

Schwarzenegger also is the author and chair of Proposition 49, the After School Education and Safety Act, which is scheduled for the November 5 ballot in California. The act would make grants available to public elementary and junior high schools that want to create after-school programs for their students.

Recently, Schwarzenegger talked to Education World about why he became involved with the issue of after-school programs for kids.

Education World: How did your own childhood affect your desire to help solve current problems in education?

Arnold Schwarzenegger: When I was a child, I always had either my mom or my dad around, guiding me, telling me that I should do my homework or play soccer or other sports. I was brought up in a strict environment, but I was surrounded by parents who cared about me.

Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger visits with California students at the launch of the campaign to pass Proposition 49, which would provide grants for the creation of after school programs. (Photo courtesy of joinarnold.com.)

So often today, children don't have this opportunity, this security. They go home to empty houses or to roam on the streets or at the mall. Many end up getting into trouble or hurting someone else. Ultimately, this damages the child, the family, and the entire neighborhood.

That's why I am passionate about Proposition 49, the After School Education and Safety Act. Californians have an opportunity to give children who badly need it access to after school programs.

EW: When did you first become interested in promoting after-school programs?

AS: I have served as chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness. In that role, I traveled to all 50 states, visiting children from every environment. It was then that I saw how much children could benefit from after-school programs and how few programs were out there.

After-school programs have been proven to work. Law enforcement, educators, parents all agree on this. So why not use a successful model to bring about more programs? Once we teach educators how to go to local businesses to ask for a partnership and how to design a program that will keep kids learning and engaged, they can transform their schools.

EW: With so many issues in education today, why have you chosen to focus your efforts on after-school programs?

AS: When I designed the initiative, I wanted to make sure I proposed something I could put my heart into. These programs work and kids and parents need them. Law enforcement and even tax watchdog groups believe in this because they know it stems the tide of vandalism and crime on the streets.

EW: When you meet with American youth, what message do you hope to convey?

AS: I tell them that every kid can succeed in America. I grew up with little money, and I learned English when I moved to this country.

This is the best country in the world. Every kid should be able to dream dreams and have an opportunity to make those dreams a reality.

EW: How do after-school programs support your message?

AS: After-school programs give children a safe, fun, supervised, enriching place to go after school. The after-school hours -- between 3:00 and 6:00 pm -- are what I call the "danger zone," the time when kids are most likely to commit crimes or become the victims of crime. We need to protect kids and their neighborhoods. Giving kids after-school programs is a win-win for everyone.

EW: How can educators and others take part in your cause?

AS: I ask all Californians to join me in voting yes on Proposition 49 in November. For those who live outside California, I would ask you to please become involved with after-school programs in your area -- or help start a new program.

This e-interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger is part of the Education World weekly Wire Side Chat series. Click Wire Side Chats to see other articles in the series.

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