The Importance of: Afterschool Programs

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When you were younger, I bet you didn’t tell yourself, “I want to be an afterschool program coordinator!” If you were like me, you did not. Throughout my school life from kindergarten to high school (K-12), I went home right after school with an occasional sport here or there. During that time, I imagined I would become a teacher, a ballerina, or an interior designer. However, the job market is an ever changing place, full of jobs we may or may not have heard of. As  millennials, we often search for jobs that fulfill us on a deeper level yet also match our skill sets. I am thankful that, in 2013, I took a chance on a job with an afterschool program and learned what a vital niche I could fill.

Afterschool programs are often located at community centers, recreation centers, libraries, churches, and schools to serve students in grades K-12 between the hours of 3 and 6pm. According to Afterschool After 3pm, 10.2 million children (18 percent) in America participate in an afterschool program. And while this number is up from 2009, still 1 in 5 children do not have someone to care for them after school. Why is this so important?

Afterschool programs provide a safe environment for students to engage in a wide range of activities to help them succeed in the 21st century. These activities may include physical activity, reading, writing, a STEM learning activity, social-emotional learning, and college and career readiness. Many afterschool programs even extend into the summer to prevent summer learning loss.

Lexington-Bell Community Center, the community center where I work,  is doing just that  in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood. In addition to a daycare, Lexington-Bell provides afterschool and summer programming for students from kindergarten to high school. The impacts on students, especially those who attend regularly, are huge. One student I have directly worked with is Tierra*, a high school senior who has been in our afterschool program since ninth grade. When she first began, she had trouble reading, making friends her age, and managing her behavior. Throughout Tierra’s time in the afterschool program, we watched her grow as she became more fluent in reading, made friends with her great personality, and yelled less while using manners more. Her commitment and positive attitude make her an asset to the program. Tierra is an example of how a safe environment, intentional activities, and a caring staff can improve a child’s life.

From rural areas to cities, afterschool programs provide children with quality programming to even the playing field. All children, regardless of race or income, deserve the same opportunity to become successful in the 21st century. Students like Tierra improve more everyday because of these vital programs. I encourage you to take a second look at afterschool programs when applying for jobs, seeking volunteer opportunities, or donating your money to an important cause. They do change lives.

*Student’s name has been changed

Image credit: FreeImages.com/Rob Gonyea

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