When the recession hit several years ago, we saw an immediate effect on afterschool programs and the children, families and communitiesthat rely on them to keep kids safe, inspire them to learn and help working families.
As shaken moms and dads turned to afterschool programs to feed their children and provide safe, supervised, educational activities in the afternoons while parents looked for work, afterschool programs found their funding sources drying up. Many before- and afterschool programs were forced to reduce services, cut staff, increase fees or close their doors. They were unable to provide the additional support that struggling families badly needed and, even worse, many were unable to continue the level of support they had long provided to their communities.
Program leaders told us that they were seeing more children whose family security was disappearing. They saw kids who were hungry each morning, wearing last year’s shoes and coats that no longer fit. Sadly, nearly five years later, the picture is just as bleak as more families have fallen into poverty and social services have not been able to keep up with growing demand for help.
So I was especially heartened last week to see President Obama include afterschool educators, tutors, literacy and math coaches, and employment programs for youth, included in his jobs plan.
These kinds of investments give us a double bang for our buck: helping us through today’s tough times; and investing in the success of the next generation. Read more about the afterschool implications of the proposed American Jobs Act in Policy News
Afterschool programs are cost-effective. Afterschool programs leverage public dollars to attract private investments, tapping community partners to weave together vibrant programs with varied offerings. For example, the average program receiving federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) funds has six community partners bringing their resources to bear on programming for kids.
Afterschool programs prepare kids for tomorrow’s workforce. Quality afterschool programs support the social, academic and professional development of youth. Hands-on projects engage kids in learning and bring school day lessons to life – resulting in higher academic achievement. Children in afterschool programs do better in school, and are more likely to graduate.
Whether designing robots, learning fractions while cooking healthy foods, giving back to the community by creating neighborhood gardens or cleaning up parks and playgrounds, or exploring careers through internships, afterschool students are helping youth build the skills they need to succeed.
Putting workers back on the job to enhance and improve education in this country is a worthy investment – and doing it right means doing more than funding construction to refurbish and repair school buildings. By supporting before- and afterschool programs as well as summer learning programs and the people who work at them, we can help bridge the gap in math and science between American students and those in other countries, reduce the dropout rate, support the next generation, and help families that are struggling today.