In 2002, after only two years of funding after-school programs, mostly for elementary and middle school students, California saw improvement in attendance and behavior at school and in the academic skills of children in the programs. Stressing academics and enrichment, the programs provide students with homework help, structured recreation, and a chance to explore different subjects. Included: Descriptions of three after-school programs.
State-funded after-school programs in California were paying big dividends in terms of student mathematics and reading achievement in 2002 after only two years of implementation.
According to the report Before and After School Learning and Safe Neighborhoods Partnerships Program, students who participated in after-school programs that were part of the After School Learning and Safe Neighborhoods Partnership Program showed improvement in attendance, behavior, and achievement at school.
A summary of the report indicates that 4.2 percent of students in after- school programs moved out of the lowest 25 percent in reading ability and 2.5 percent showed the same gains in math. This compares with 1.9 percent of students who did not participate in after-school programs showing improvement in reading and math.
Students who participated in the program for seven and a half months or more showed gains in math scores 2.5 times more than did students statewide.
As a direct result, districts saved about $11 million this school year because fewer students had to repeat grades.
The report, written by the University of California at Irvine School of Education, included data from the second year of the program, 2000-2001.
"I'm not at all surprised," says Trish Bascom, executive director for the San Francisco school health programs department, which oversees after-school programs in the San Francisco district. "Three to 6 p.m. is the most critical time for kids after school. We just don't have enough time to address everything during the school day. This is a way to help kids in a safe environment."
The program serves about 100,000 students in kindergarten through ninth grade in almost 1,000 schools, according to Pat Rainey, program administrator. Another 200 schools were expected to add programs, thanks to additional state money, says Frank Pisi, education program consultant for the Healthy Start and After School Partnerships programs.
The fact that students made academic gains was not as surprising as the degree to which they showed improvement, Rainey tells Education World.
"We are pleased they are as significant as they are," Rainey says. "The cost-saving benefit was particularly surprising. And we are seeing the most gains by students who need support the most."
All programs must be offered for at least three hours a day, five days a week until at least 6 p.m. and include educational and enrichment components. One year the state asked schools to stress literacy activities. "How they choose to do that is up to the local district and whom they partner with," Rainey says.
"The biggest thing is 'disguised learning,'" says Sue Schatz, project director and director of student support services for the Lawndale Elementary School District in Lawndale, California. "We never let an opportunity pass by that is not a learning opportunity. If we make it fun, the kids don't know they are learning."
Barbara Pregmon, coordinator of after-school programs for the San Bernadino schools, agrees. "If it's not fun, they won't come. We want to be different from the regular school day," she says. "But at the same time, we want to be aligned with the curriculum."
In many schools, classroom teachers and aides work in the after-school programs as well, which allows students to see them in a different light. "Students have a place to go where they can get questions answered in a different way," says Bascom from the San Francisco district.
Literacy activities and homework help are particularly important components of the Lawndale program because about half the students come from families for whom English is a second language, Schatz says.
"We try to get all the homework done because they may not be able to get any help at all at home," she adds. Teachers report they are seeing more completed assignments from students who attend the after-school program.
To make reading appealing, Lawndale staff encourage children to read about subjects in which they are interested and have older students read with younger students.
San Francisco uses a KidLit program in its after-school program, which has students read about areas of interest and then do projects related to the books.
Children in all programs also have a chance to play outdoors and try new activities. Students in San Bernadino work on arts and crafts, play music, and work in gardens on the school grounds. They also have computer time, which is important because many of them do not have computers at home.
Districts applied to renew their grants for three years, and some planned to try to expand their programs to serve more students, Pisi explains. The majority of schools should have their grants renewed, he adds.
"We are supporting and supplementing what the [classroom] teachers are doing," says Schatz. "This is very integral to what they are doing in class."