Some After School Programs Mean the Difference Between Life and Death

The Trump administration has made it clear that it believes after-school programs are ineffective and funding should be directed elsewhere.

I have spent the larger part of my career working to support and run after school programs. I have seen all types of students benefit from the opportunities and enrichment that extended learning programs offer. While some might think after school programs are nothing more than glorified babysitting services or “free play”, comprehensive after-school programs are much more than that. Contrary to what the White House thinks, there is indisputable evidence that supports the effectiveness of after-school programming. In some communities and for some young people, they can mean the difference between life and death.

At their core, comprehensive out of school time programs offer a safe space for students to continue to learn, grow, explore and develop. In many of the under-resourced communities that after school programs serve, there are not many safe space for students to play, receive academic support and tutoring, or find a meal. Often, both parents or guardians work. Were it not for these programs, young people would be exposed and unsupervised. Between the hours of 3:00 pm and 6:00 pm, youth are most likely to be victims of or commit a crime. If nothing else, these programs are a continuance of what schools are during the instructional day, a haven.

School day instruction is often inundated with content; exploration and experiential activities for youth take a back seat. After-school programs feature learning that makes content from the school day stick by creating environments that foster student leadership, growth, and development. Further, we know that summer programming, not summer school, is an immediate solution to reducing summer learning loss.

A consortium of after-school leaders, community-based organizations and advocates believe that extended learning opportunities should feature learning that is active, meaningful, , collaborative, supports mastery and expands horizons.  These, along with other strategies are the foundations of effective after-school programming; programming that a myriad of data supports outcomes the Trump administration deny exist. Students are allowed to explore and experiment, but also have access to resources to support academic success. Due to this, students who attend after-school programs regularly are more likely to go to school, score better on assessments, graduate, and pursue post-secondary education.

I have had the privilege of seeing these results first-hand over the span of my ten-year career in education. But, I have also had a front row seat to outcomes that data might not easily reflect. I have seen students whom the system gave up on flourish and graduate on time in spite of other educators that gave up on them. I have seen students who have never been to the beach take surfing lessons or conquer fears and feed their confidence by scaling rock faces. I have marveled at students who might not self-identify as leaders, take on community service projects that positively impacted their communities and take action to solve injustices they see around them. I have enjoyed students taking to the stage to share their talents or display their art. I have been proud of students who advocated for safe spaces for all students to embrace their identities while denouncing violence in all forms.

In my opinion, students who attend after-school programs are more well-rounded than their counterparts because of experiences they are afforded in these programs that they might not have otherwise. I am one of those educators that believes two things about students. I believe that all students are at risk, not just students who may have made some poor choices or who live in poverty. I also believe that there is no such thing as an “achievement gap”; there is an opportunity gap.

Students have shown us time and time again that if given the opportunity, resources, and support to achieve excellence, they will do just that and more. Without these things, all students are at risk of not finding their passions or realizing their full potential to achieve their goals. Extended learning opportunities made possible by after-school and summer programs make this possible. I have thousands of students that I can show to Trump's team as proof of the effectiveness of such programs.

Those of us who know of the effectiveness of after-school programs must use any platform we have to not only make sure these programs remain funded, but also that they get the funding their deserve. Make sure you reach out to your state and federal legislators and implore them to reject any budget proposal that is harmful to our most precious and vulnerable citizens, our children.