By Susan Davis Gryder 2017-09-04 23:55:37
EVERY $1 INVESTED IN AFTERSCHOOL PROGRAMS SAVES $3 BY: • Increasing kids’ earning potential • Improving kids’ performance in school • Reducing crime and welfare costs Hand-in-hand: The advantages of pairing supper with afterschool programs. For the majority of this issue, snacks and suppers have occupied your mind as you have read about the value of offering them to student consumers—a duly significant value for your operation and for those whom you serve. You’ve read about methodology; you’ve consumed testimonials—but what about the greater context in which these important meals are served? Once convinced to try a pilot program, do you know the people in your school or district who would coordinate suppers? Do you have a base or core knowledge about afterschool meals in general? Whom do you reach out to? How do you get started? Let SN give you a closer look at what happens on campus when the last school bell has rung and the halls are, for the most part, silent. SUPPLY & DEMAND Some decades ago, school ended at 3:00 p.m. and it was up to parents to make sure their kids were safe and supervised. As the number of households with no adult at home increased, so did the problem of childcare during the hours before dinnertime. If you had working parents, you may have spent many hours afterschool watching reruns of bad TV sitcoms and avoiding your homework. In recent years, educators and parents have begun to see afterschool programs as more than just a childcare solution. Instead, the hours between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m. can be a time of enrichment and learning for all children, as well as provide a safe and supervised environment. In fact, in the decade between 2004 and 2014, the number of kids participating in after-the-final-bell programs increased by 60%, totaling about 4 million. The demand for afterschool programs is also increasing—and offerings aren’t keeping up with the need. One in five children (11 million kids) are unsupervised afterschool and studies show that an additional 20 million children would be enrolled afterschool if their parents had access to quality, affordable programs. THE NEED TO FEED High-quality afterschool programs can benefit all children, of course. But in areas of concentrated poverty, these programs become a critical part of kids’ lives, offering low-income children physical activity, preparation for STEM classes, homework assistance and—moreover—nutritious snacks and meals. These programs may also offer children who live in higher crime areas a safe haven until their caregivers arrive home. Studies have shown that programs for older students can reduce the school dropout rate, risky behaviors such as drug use and even teen pregnancy. Despite the benefit of such constructive undertakings, families in areas of concentrated poverty can experience more significant barriers to enrolling their kids. One of the most considerable challenges is accessibility: 67% of parents in these areas report having difficulty finding a potential afterschool program or don’t have a way to get kids to and from the site. Other prominent conplications are affordability and parents’ negative perception of the quality and value of the programs that are available. Urban areas aren’t the only places where afterschool programs are needed. They are in high demand in rural communities, where distance and low population density create unique challenges. Many rural parents don’t know which programs are available in their communities; accessibility and transportation are also greater obstacles than in urban locations. ALLIED FORCES One organization has a mission to provide a voice to those who depend on afterschool programs, as well as to advocate for those who don’t yet have access to afterschool options: The Afterschool Alliance, established in 2000, works to ensure that youths of all ages have access to affordable, quality afterschool programs by promoting public awareness. With supporters and advocates both in the public and private sector, The Alliance strives to increase investment in these programs on all levels—national, state and local. A large part of this effort includes research and active support focused on programs for children in lower-income areas. “Our mission is afterschool for all,” says Alexis Steines, field outreach director for the organization. “But our advocacy work is for less affluent areas.” Steines stresses that every child benefits from top-notch afterschool programs, which engage them in learning and excite them about their respective futures. These programs can be life-changing for kids, particularly those from underserved groups. As one example, the Mighty Writers El Futuro program in Philadelphia serves English Language Learning (ELL) students. The initiative provides a nutritious snack in addition to homework help in both English and Spanish. Furthermore, students work on writing projects that emphasize writing proficiency, review and revision, while using the work of Latino authors to inspire students and help them see themselves in the writers’ work. Across the county, Project GUTS (Growing Up Thinking Scientifically) is a New Mexico-based program that focuses on STEM. Project GUTS offers an afterschool computing and STEM program that serves middle schoolers in both rural and urban areas, in tandem with a girls-only program, Girls GUTS, which fosters computing skills and incorporates mentorship from female computer science professionals. Project GUTS emphasizes the teaching of computational thinking and encourages students from nontraditional populations to work toward careers in STEM. The project engages universities and scientific organizations for both funding and curriculum support. California is a national leader in the aid and funding of afterschool curricula; the Los Angeles Unified School District hosts numerous programs that serve almost a third of the district’s students. Programs such as Beyond the Bell and LA’s Best receive strong support from city government, the school district, parents and voters. LA’s Best offers options city-wide, each with homework help, a nutritious snack and a focus designed to inspire a variety of kids, from peacemaking and arts to physical fitness and tech. Students can learn typing skills, engage in hands-on science activities, participate in team sports and even become young authors. Steines underscores the critical support that these initiatives provide: “In lower-income communities, it’s vital for students to attend a program in a safe environment where they can apply lessons from the school day, and where parents don’t have to worry about where their kids are.” MINIMAL FEDERAL SUPPORT Afterschool activities and programs are widely viewed as beneficial, regardless of politics. In fact, 84% of parents, no matter their side of the aisle, report that they support public funding of afterschool programming. Be that as it may, funding can be scarce. The only afterschool funding source from the Federal government is the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program. Put in place as part of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, the program provides grants to states for afterschool and summer learning initiatives that offer academic enrichment, literacy programs and services like drug and violence prevention, career training, counseling and more. 21st CCLC also supports activities that help adults engage with their children’s learning, such as adult literacy and educational development offerings. A typical 21st CCLC program offers services five days a week, 32 weeks a year. Children who attend experience multiple beneficial outcomes, such as improved homework completion, heightened class participation, better behavior in class, and higher grades in both math and language arts. 21st CCLC programs serve children from all backgrounds, in locations from urban to suburban to rural, as well as all grade levels, from kindergarten through high school. Despite their positive outcomes and near-universal popularity, these initatives are unquestionably at risk. The current administration’s proposed budget eliminates funding for 21st CCLC grants entirely, endangering access for about two million children. While Congress has reinstated some funding in its own budget, the cuts that remain would severely limit these grants and put programs supported by them in jeopardy. PEAS IN A POD The goals and achievements of afterschool curricula probably sound very familiar to you, as a school nutrition professional. Beyond the synergy between the individual missions of the school nutrition profession and afterschool programs—studies show that the latter promote healthy eating and physical activity—both institutions can also claim similar key outcomes of their influence. Steines stresses the fact that nutritious food is a key part of afterschool programming; and many schools are looking for an opening to incorporate nutrition education into their afterschool opportunities. “A lot of parents take into account whether a healthy meal is included, and expect and want a healthy snack or meal afterschool,” she observes. “The meal provided afterschool may be the last thing kids eat before breakfast at school the next day.” It should be noted that, at present, 85% of afterschool programs serve a meal or snack to kids. School nutrition professionals can work cooperatively with afterschool and summer programs in many ways. In fact, the USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), which serves children in high poverty areas post school day, incorporates requirements that mirror many of the elements high-caliber afterschool programs provide, such as a safe place to go; nutritious foods; the chance to engage in physical, educational and social activities; and enrichment opportunities. Working together, eligible school nutrition and afterschool programs can meet students’ needs and maximize their potential for learning. HELPING HANDS If these possibilities inspire you, it’s time to get involved! For starters, check out The Afterschool Alliance’s annual promotional day, Lights On Afterschool, which celebrates the achievements of afterschool initiatives and generates media coverage. This year’s Lights On Afterschool will be held on October 26; to get involved, visit http://www.afterschoolalliance.org/loa.cfm. • Ensure that 21st CCLC programs continue to receive funding under the new budget. Write your members of Congress asking for their support. • Make sure your state is part of the action, write your state representatives to encourage legislation that supports afterschool programs. • If your state is one of the 42 that have state afterschool networks, get involved! Find out how you can partner with your local programs at http://www.statewideafterschoolnetworks.net. • Program providers are eager to incorporate your skills, including nutrition education, cooking demonstrations, etc. • Be an advocate! Add your voice to those who support nutrition, activity and learning from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Susan Davis Gryder is a freelance writer based in Silver Spring, Md. Photos on page 42 and 44 courtesy of the Aftershool Alliance.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
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