According to Jodi Wilgoren of the New York Times (2000), recent growth in afterschool programming "represents nothing less than the reimagining of the school day for the first time in generations."
Afterschool programs are increasingly viewed as one viable way of bridging the gap between the end of the school day and the time parents get home from work. They have the potential to provide a safe, supervised place for children and youth to participate in constructive activities and form positive relationships with peers and adults. Such programs may also supplement what children and youth learn during the regular school day and expose students to a wide array of enrichment opportunities that promote cognitive, social, emotional, physical, and moral growth and development.
The caliber of afterschool programs varies widely, however, and so it is important for administrators and policy- makers to be familiar with factors that tend to set apart high-quality programs. Otherwise, millions of children may end up being "warehoused in inadequate programs" (Grossman 2002).
This Digest briefly discusses why afterschool programs are needed, what potential benefits may be, what challenges may affect the viability of programs, what factors are identified with high-quality programs, and what policy issues need to be addressed.
Why Are Afterschool Programs Needed?
More than twenty-eight million school-age children have parents who are employed, and between seven and fifteen million children go home to an empty house on any given day. According to research conducted by the Urban Institute, "an estimated 4 million 6- to 12-year-olds with employed mothers… are regularly without adult supervision when not at school" (Capizzano and others 2000).
There are many risks associated with leaving children and youth without supervision during afterschool hours. When children are in "self-care" rather than supervised, their personal safety as well as their emotional security can be compromised. For older youth, being unsupervised after school increases the likelihood that they will become involved in criminal activity, develop a substance-abuse problem, or engage in early sexual activity or other high-risk behaviors. Both juvenile crime and victimization of children and youth peak between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. (Wilgoren).
The younger children are when they are left alone and the more hours they are unsupervised, the greater the probability they will be adversely affected.
In one study, sixth-graders who had been unsupervised regularly between first and third grade were less socially competent and had lower grades than a control group. A study of nearly 5,000 eighth-graders found that those who took care of themselves for eleven or more hours a week were twice as likely to smoke, drink, or use marijuana than those who were not in self-care after school (Richardson and others 1989).
Schools are increasingly assuming a role in addressing the needs of children and youth during afterschool hours. In a survey conducted by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) in 2001, two-thirds of respondents from schools serving prekinder-garten through eighth-grade students offered afterschool programs, up dramatically from 1988, when only 22 percent of principals surveyed offered such programs.
However, afterschool programs are "unevenly distributed across and within communities" (Larner and others 1999). Children in low-income neighborhoods typically have the fewest afterschool options, and available programs in these neighborhoods "tend to address risks and problems rather than cultivating children's skills" (Larner and others).
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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