Analyzing the Future of After-School Programs

     The Extended Learning Opportunity Programs are important as they allow students to stay engaged outside of the classroom, provide supervision, increase productivity, while keeping at-risk kids off the streets and from engaging in illegal activity; however, the future of these programs are uncertain in many ways. The ELO Program was established in 1998 and was to ensure that each state had a program that expanded learning outside of the classroom. These programs include before- and after-school programs, summer camps, weekend programs, and many others that allow for engagement outside the classroom. Not only that, but the program also provides for an opportunity for a safe environment and builds a gap between a potential troubled home environment and the school and academic life. This gives students the potential to thrive, away from problems they might face at home. But the problem with these programs is that they are not accessible for all kids that want them. In fact, in North Carolina, 31% of students have to look after themselves after school, as these programs only “exists in small patches across the country.” This is due to the fact that these programs are not adequately funded and due another crucial problem that educators face about what these after-school programs should look like, what they should provide for children, and what is their primary role. By answering these questions, funding to these programs can be simplified and focused, allowing for expansion of the programs so that all kids can have access to them. This is important, because every kid is entitled to a quality education and equal opportunities, regardless of where they live.

     One solution to the problem of expanding these after-school programs is by determining what these programs should look like. Many educators argue that they should be focused around schools, and provide homework and academic help to increase critical thinking skills, and help expand academic learning outside the classroom. However, others argue that the after-school programs should be a time when students are allowed to try hobbies, play sports, and explore things outside of the academic realm. The APA conducted studies and found that a holistic approach is one that is most beneficial. This approach allows access to academic as well as music, dance, and sports. This also allows students to build relationships with peers as well as adults, build on strengths, allow for participation in multiple areas, and “The teachers weren’t just showing kids how to dunk a basketball or act in a play. They were also coaching them on life skills such as good table manners or how to interact with peers–basically, being great mentors.” A good program, does not work to merely keep students off the streets, it focuses on building lasting relationship with the students. Other educators disagree and say that these bonds can be created while focusing on academic work, which benefits students in the long run. These can help as many schools in the U.S. fail to meet federal achievement standards. These can be measured by the completion of homework in the after-school programs and attendance at school. However, the APA shows that the with the holistic approach, students were taking the initiative to ask for feedback, thus allowing for active participation, and were better on academic measures, as they focused on a youth-development model that helped students gain autonomy, and thus translated into a healthy academic life at school.

     So by focusing on this type of youth-development approach, students can gain benefits in school as well as in the future, in college and the professional world. However, as explored earlier, many students still cannot access after-school programs, and participation is especially “low among disadvantaged and minority youth.” The problem is complex and is due to many different factors. Budget cuts and reduced funding is a huge cause of why many after-school programs are closing down, and leaving many students in those communities caring for themselves after school. A survey in 2012 shows that 62% of after-school programs received less funding during that year than in 2009. Implying that the importance and the funding for these ELO Programs might be decreasing over time. In the recent years, it has caused many of these programs to be shut down in areas, or a major cutback, that affects the students in the program. Not only that, but in areas with more minorities, the programs are in worse state. “70% of African-American majority programs say that their current budget cannot meet the needs of students and families in their community.” And 62% of majority Latino programs are facing the same problems, with an additional “92% report that children in their community need afterschool care, but are unable to access it.” The NSLA argues that the achievement gap between the lower and higher income youth is due to the access of summer programs, during elementary years. These create a greater gap, as the higher income youth has more resources to harness these programs. This creates a socioeconomic divide; even though the ELO Programs take pride in the fact that they work to create equal opportunities for everyone.  These budget cuts are creating further divides between lower-socioeconomic areas, and those students who have access to the tutoring and help outside of school.

     In North Carolina, the YWCA Greater Triangle in Raleigh had to close their doors after being a part of the community for a century. This was caused by lack of adequate funding, and a decrease in grants. The YWCA served many children during the after-school programs, leaving the students of the area to find other programs and fend for themselves after school. Many parents also were concerned for the future of their children and career; “I think it’s bad that they are doing it to the children of this county. I think it’s terrible.” By being forced to shut down, they closed their doors to many families who needed a space for kids to be supervised after school, while being with friends and people they formed bonds with on a daily basis.

     Besides the fact that these programs are shutting down, the lack of grants and funding create higher costs associated with keeping these programs running. Many students from lower socioeconomic areas do not have access to Y’s, Boys and Girl’s Scout programs, due to programs fees, and transportation to them, when they are not available in their own communities. A solution to this problem is to use school buildings for such after-school programs. This will allow students to have access to the library, gymnasiums, computer labs, etc., allowing for a holistic learning model to be attained, as talked about in the APA study. “The current notion that school building are underused resources, open for only six or seven hours during the school day and not at all in the summer, is too simplistic.” By using these buildings, costs associated with opening other facilities would decrease, the after-school programs would be widespread as communities have schools, thus allowing more kids to access such programs. Transportation costs would also decrease. The school buildings are already catered to students, and some schools also host after-school programs, but by expanding these programs and providing more opportunities for students, they would be beneficial in achieving the goals the ELO Program calls to achieve.

     Another solution to expanding the ELO Program is by allowing students to continue after-school initiatives into high school. Many studies have shown the importance of ELO Programs during elementary years for students as they allow for supervision, however, by expanding these programs to high school years, and encouraging students to be a part of them, it allows students to get ready for college and engage and engagement in a higher level thinking process, to tackle real-world problems. These experiences can allow high school students get credit and experience in the field they are pursuing by giving them internship, lab, and online opportunities outside the classroom. This allows a student interested in chemistry to work in the environment they are interested in, while learning specifics about the real world they are working in now, at school. It allows a more rounded opportunity for students to understand all opportunities while getting credit for chemistry. This allows for a better college readiness, and allows for students to know the current opportunities in the field they are interested in. So the ELO Programs can expand these programs outside the realm of just after-school programs during elementary years to increase the learning during older years, when students have developed there critical thinking skills and want to expand and use these skills in the real world.

     Many parents, educators, students, and politicians agree that ELO Programs are crucial for learning and for the world we live in today. With working parents, and higher standards for students, kids need to be engaged in productive activities outside of the classroom. The goal and in theory, the programs also help even the playing field for kids from socioeconomic areas, and help at-risk kids stay out of trouble. Although, the programs work to do this, the limited funding provided to them and the lack of them being widespread, create a divide between those that can easily access them and the kids who are unable to or cannot afford them. Solutions to these problems include allotting more funding and grants to in school, after-school and other ELO Programs, which allow all kids to access them. Also, what these after-school programs should look like has been highly debated, to see how they would help students in the future. By using a holistic, developmental approach, students achieve a better understanding of concepts, are healthier, and thus do well in school. By allotting the funds specifically to these programs, these programs will thrive, allowing them to expand, and thus enrolling more kids.

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