Over the weekend I had the privilege of attending the Clinton Global Initiative University at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The conference brought together more than one thousand university students from around the world to help develop their individual “Commitments to Action” to address a pressing global challenge like climate change, poverty alleviation or human rights.
Although I wasn’t there as a representative of the Afterschool Alliance, I was struck by how often speakers and participants raised concepts we talk about as core principles of quality expanded learning. These principles—like strong school/community partnerships, family engagement, engaged mentors, and a focus on safety, health and wellness—came up over and over again as some of the most effective ways to deal with social issues affecting youth, like tackling the effects of poverty, inequitable access to education, urban development and improving access to nutritious food. Every time I spoke with a participant about his or her Commitment to Action to address one of these issues, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how well afterschool programs fit into larger goals like making our neighborhoods safer, inspiring the next generation of global citizens, and helping working families live a better life, both here in the U.S. and across the globe.
Imagine how pleased I was when none other than President Bill Clinton reinforced the importance of afterschool programs during his closing interview with Jon Stewart. Student Francisco Estrada from Salinas, CA, asked Clinton how we can work to combat juvenile delinquency and incarceration. His answer: invest in afterschool programs and transform schools into community centers that can serve the entire family.
“In my second term…we really went after juvenile crime and tried to keep people out of prison. And one of the things we did was appropriate enough money for afterschool programs for a million and a half young people—this was federal money—and I gather a lot of them have been cut back now under all these financial constraints… I believe that we’ve got to go back to turning these schools into community centers—leave them open every night, leave them open on the weekends. Offer real support to kids.”
Clinton proudly championed the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative as a funding source that is helping to offer that support and urged Congress to consider 21st CCLC an important investment. He also mentioned the federal GEAR UP Network as one program creating a college-going culture among middle school students.
“Most of these kids are not bad kids—they get disconnected, they think that life is a dead end anyway—we’ve got to bring them back in, and I have no better idea than what I have seen work,” he said. “And when this economy picks up again, that’s the first thing that Congress ought to think about doing. You can give all the tests in the world, you can do all of this other stuff, but kids have got to believe they can succeed, they’ve got to want to succeed, then they’ve got to be given a way to do it and their families have to be given a place to support them.”
Every workshop, panel and discussion I attended at CGIU went back to the same point: creating sustainable community-based initiatives with diverse stakeholders and strong partnerships that engage and empower children and their families is the most effective way to bring positive change to a community—whether it’s Harlem or Port Au Prince, Haiti. The principles of effective expanded learning opportunities embody this idea, and I hope they inspire more community-based initiatives that keep kids safe, inspire them to learn and help working families.
You can watch the full webcast of President Clinton’s closing interview with Jon Stewart here. To see his full answer to Francisco’s question, jump to 1:26:00 (near the end).
Update: Our Director of STEM Policy, Dr. Anita Krishnamurthi, has been invited to represent the Afterschool Alliance at CGI America in June. We’ll keep you posted on this exciting opportunity!