Youth After-School Programs (page 2)
The number of children and adolescents without family supervision after school is increasing. Further, the once common notion that self-care led to greater maturity has been replaced with the knowledge that many "latchkey" children, home alone after school, may experience loneliness, fear, and worry. They also risk injury, victimization, bad nutrition, and the negative impact of excessive television viewing. Adolescents who care for younger siblings may experience great stress and must forgo constructive after-school activities. Those who "hang out" with similarly aimless friends may join gangs or engage in premature sexual activity, drug and alcohol use, and other anti-social behavior. Idle youth are particularly prone to many negative influences in urban areas (Marx, 1989).
Because studies show benefits for poor urban students who engage in planned after-school activities (Posner & Vandell, 1994), a large number of such programs have been implemented. They range from small projects with a single purpose, such as raising reading scores, to well-funded comprehensive programs. Over three million children participate in some type of after-school program (National Study, 1993). This digest describes the creation and operation of the larger and more structured programs, but community groups that want to initiate small projects can incorporate relevant ideas and experiences into their own designs.
Schools frequently sponsor after-school programs since many districts, public agencies, or legislation require it. The advantages of school sponsorship include credibility, a continuity of care, and easy access to good resources. Also, programs in schools eliminate the need for children to travel to get to them, and parents do not have to go to two locations to participate in their children's education. The disadvantages include higher personnel costs if after-school staff salaries must be equal to teachers', unexpected program cuts if the after-school program budget is tied to that of the school, and a perception by children that the program is merely an extension of the school day (Latchkey Guidelines, 1987).
Many community and religious organizations, either profit-making or non-profit, are also qualified to manage programs. Some operate independently, while others have a service contract with the local school district. A potential difficulty for non-school sponsors is the availability of a well-equipped site that is an easy commute from school and home. Ideally, the site has both educational and recreational resources, sufficient rest rooms, and a kitchen. Independent after-school programs sometimes rent school space since schools have the best facilities. Thus, they have some of the same advantages as a school-operated program.
Programs can either be self-supporting through tuition paid by participants (possibly on a sliding scale); supported by grants and contracts; or funded through a combination of both. In urban areas families usually pay nothing or only a very small fee.
Many Federal and local government agencies offer funding for after-school programs. For example, government anti-crime programs support afternoon anti-gang activities and special education programs support remedial education. It may be possible to combine special purpose funds from several agencies to create a full-service program. Some foundations also fund programs. Local businesses and organizations may contribute, possibly with in-kind gifts, such as sports equipment or even a site (Carnegie Council, 1994).
Program Design and Goals
Overall, after-school programs strive to be fun, challenging, and comforting. They are freer than schools to use innovative curricula and activities to promote children's learning. They can be flexible in tailoring children's time to their needs, have a better student/ staff ratio, and benefit from multi-age groupings.
Specific goals and activities vary, but, in general, most programs have the following goals (Latchkey Guidelines, 1987; Marx, 1989; Brooks & Herman, 1991; What Adolescents Want, 1992; Carnegie Council, 1994; Morton-Young, 1995):
- To make available responsible and caring adults who offer support and guidance.
- To foster the self-worth of each child and develop their self-care skills. For adolescents, to foster an age-appropriate sense of independence, and develop the ability to resist participation in premature sexual activity, substance use, and anti-social behavior.
- To develop the youth's personal and interpersonal social skills, and to promote appreciation of cultural diversity.
- To reinforce school day learning by integrating personalized educational supports into each child's schedule.
- To provide time and space for quiet study.
- To provide educational enrichment activities and to spark youths' curiosity and love of learning.
- To provide recreational and physical activities to develop physical skills and to constructively channel energy pent-up after a day sitting in a classroom.
- To encourage participation in sports activities to help youth develop self-esteem and learn lessons about cooperation and conflict resolution.
- To provide age-appropriate job readiness training.
- To provide information about career and career training options, preferably through firsthand experiences with community business leaders and tours of local businesses.
Schools and districts that run an after-school program inform parents about it in the same way as they provide other information. Independent programs often forge a partnership with the district to promote recruitment. Letters, flyers, and announcements in local newspapers are simple recruitment tools. Materials can be supplied to local employers for dissemination; doing this may also spark program support.
Personal contact with parents is a more effective strategy, however. Some programs designate a staff member to serve as a "community representative" to speak personally to families about the importance of after-school activities (Brooks & Herman, 1991). Religious leaders, physicians, and social service workers can also inform parents about programs.
Programs frequently recruit adolescents directly. Many urban youth are anxious to have a safe place to go where they will receive personal attention. They are likely to respond to the lure of good sports equipment and challenging recreational and educational activities (What Young Adolescents Want, 1992).
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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