U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said: “Learning doesn't just happen in a classroom between school bells. Children learn all day long.
“So it's vital to give students and their families the tools, the facilities and the opportunity to continue working on traditional academic subjects, as well as a place for broader lessons in areas like art and music to enrich their lives.”
While Duncan’s words were undoubtedly true, they unfortunately represent the truth.
Recently, the Afterschool Alliance surveyed nearly 30,000 families nationwide to learn how many children are in afterschool programs, how many are unsupervised after school, and how these numbers compare to five years ago.
Their findings only support the major need for more afterschool programs for American youth and the kind of fiscal support that is necessary from all levels of the government -- as well as the philanthropic and business communities -- to keep these vital programs alive.
The survey, America After 3PM, found that while there are significantly more children being served by afterschool programs, there are more children than ever who go unsupervised after school. Despite growing awareness that children are at particular risk during these crucial afternoon hours, the percentage of children left on their own has increased over the past five years.
According to the survey, 30 percent of middle school students (3,722,219) and 4 percent of elementary school children (1,133,989) are unsupervised after school.
Though the availability of afterschool programs has increased in the past five years, there are still not enough programs to address the demand by parents and students. Nine in ten parents surveyed by the Afterschool Alliance (91 percent) agree that there should be “some type of organized activity or place for children and teens to go after school every day that provides opportunities to learn.”
DC SCORES provides that activity for more than 700 students at 23 District schools. By giving students something safe and productive to do after the final bell, we keep them away from the uncertainty of an afternoon spent on their own without parents.
As the recent survey stated, we’re filling a need that still, even with more kids attending afterschool programming, isn’t large enough to ensure America’s students are doing something productive during the afternoon.
Now, more than ever, it’s important that every effort be made to meet this all-important need, assuring working parents everywhere that their kids are in a safe, productive environment when they can’t be at their side.
And it helps, obviously, if the program is enjoyed by the students.
Just over a month into my time here at DC SCORES, it is clear to me just how much DC SCORES means to many of our poet-athletes.
At a recent elementary school game day, I witnessed the teamwork of DC SCORES in action. The girls’ teams had finished their game, and the boys were playing a battle of a game on a muddy pitch. The girls for both teams stood on the sidelines cheering, chanting and clapping for their teammates as they made impressive drives up and down the field.
A girl standing next to me on the sideline watched her school’s boys team fall behind 2-0 and yearned to be of assistance, saying, “They’re my teammates and they need help.” She proceeded to ask us, persistently, if there were any ways girls could possibly play in a boys game and how she could get on the field to help her team.
The camaraderie, support and enthusiasm that these elementary school students showed for each other on the field that day supports the value of afterschool programs and the positive message they can reinforce in the lives of children who may have gone unsupervised without these important and necessary community services.
-- Written by Katie Sieck, Development Assistant and AmeriCorps VISTA for DC SCORES.