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"At their most sophisticated, [afterschool programs] represent a dynamic, authentic school-community partnership that brings both public and private resources to bear in order to strengthen community, improve schools' effectiveness, and develop the potential of the young people they serve." 1
Some say America's attention to community is in decline. As people work longer hours, endure longer commutes, and have less time to socialize and join community organizations, they are not getting to know their neighbors and communities. Schools exist in a vacuum, having little or no association with the surrounding neighborhood, and many neighborhoods lack safe places for youth to gather and socialize without parents being concerned about violence, drug use, abduction, traffic or other dangers. Afterschool programs are uniquely suited to fill this void and become America's new neighborhood -- a safe space for both kids and parents to gather to learn, play and connect. By giving schools, community based organizations and communities a sound investment in one another, afterschool programs have the power to reduce crime, increase safety, bring neighbors together, and foster community pride and ownership.
Youth reap the benefits of safe, stable environments.
A disconnected community is in jeopardy of becoming an unsafe community. Criminologist Robert J. Sampson asserts, "communities characterized by (a) anonymity and sparse acquaintanceship networks among residents, (b) unsupervised teenage peer groups and attenuated control of public space, and (c) a weak organizational base and low social participation in local activities face an increased risk of crime and violence."2 Conversely, afterschool programs are proven to lower juvenile crime rates and generally improve neighborhoods, and not just by keeping youth occupied for a few hours every day. Afterschool programs help young people succeed by providing academic support and the chance to form meaningful relationships with adults from their community, and by encouraging them to get involved in their neighborhood through service projects. This support, these relationships and the benefits to the community create a mutually beneficial relationship of immeasurable value.
Afterschool programs bring communities together.
"In communities where at least 50 percent of the kids are participating in after-school programs, that community is five times more likely to be a healthy community because they are putting resources behind their children." -- Grenae Dudley, executive director of the Youth Connection in Detroit.6
Schools and other organizations that invest in youth are prime facilitators of community connections. In 1935, when C.S. Mott and Frank Manley developed the model of the "lighted schoolhouse," or a school that is a vibrant community center, open all evening, year-round, they gave birth to the idea of the community school. Community schools have flourished in some areas of the country and afterschool is serving as a stepping stone for community schools in others. Afterschool programs need community involvement to succeed, and asking for community support brings neighbors together for a common purpose--to help their children--and fosters a sense of ownership of and responsibility for the program, the entity that houses it and its results.
"Create quality and affordable after-school care. … Children who participate in quality after-school programs are much less likely to use drugs and alcohol, to have sex, or to be involved in criminal activity than their peers who go home to empty houses in neighborhoods that are not safe. Participation in after-school programs is linked to improved school attendance and academic performance."7
Flourishing communities, effective schools, productive youth, promising future. The notion of community investment in youth cannot languish. Support for afterschool programs that bring together kids, parents, teachers, residents and community leaders and organizations is vital in building strong, supportive communities. Successful afterschool programs help young people become productive adults, get parents involved in their children's education, produce safer streets, address community needs, foster civic responsibility, strengthen community groups and rally residents around a common goal. In short, afterschool programs make communities safer and stronger.
1EdSource Online, Community Partnerships and After-School Programs, An Overview, www.edsource.org/edu_part.cfm, February 2002.
2Putnam, Robert, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000, Pg. 307.
3Ferrin & Amick, 2002.
4Corporation for National and Community Service, Students in Service to America, Washington, D.C., 2002.
5Friedman & Bleiberg, 2002
6Kresnak, Jack, "After school - and all alone; State not doing enough to put kids on right track, study says," Detroit Free Press, May 16, 2002.
7News Release, "Pew Partnership's Top Ten List For Community Success," www.pew-partnership.org/newsroom/top_ten(pr).html, accessed November 14, 2003.
8Rutland, Aulica, "Building a dream; community center rises in eastside, " Greensboro News & Record, April 19, 2002.
10Friedman & Bleiberg, 2002, p. 32.
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