As more and more studies have indicated, there are many risks associated with leaving children unsupervised after school. To fill these hours with positive activities, many communities offer after-school and summer youth programs. The activities offered by these programs can range from sports and physical activities, to academic enrichment or tutoring opportunities, to cultural or arts activities. The most successful programs, however, offer a mixture of activities to sustain students' interest. Community youth programs can obtain funding through a variety of government, non-profit, and local resources, though these funds tend to be competitive and are often unsustainable. Programs that can ably articulate their goals and procedures, quantitatively or qualitatively prove their effectiveness, and work co-operatively with schools stand the best chance of obtaining these funds.
Keywords Academic Programs; After-School Programs; Civic Engagement; Funding; Grants; Summer Programs
As more and more studies have indicated, there are many risks associated with leaving children unsupervised after school. Since most schools finish the day by 3:00 pm and many parents work until 6:00 pm or later, it is easy to see how after-school hours play an important role in children's safety. Youth criminal activity and violence occur most often between the hours of 3:00 pm and 6:00 pm (Vinluan, 2005; Wilgoren, n.d., as cited in Lumsden, 2003). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, at least seven million children come home to an empty house after school because their communities are not equipped with after-school programs that are easily available and affordable; and according to the U.S. Department of Justice, children who are left unsupervised during these hours are more likely to smoke, drink, use drugs, be sexually active and become involved in criminal activity (Vinluan, 2005). One study showed that sixth grade students who were regularly unsupervised when they were in the first, second, and third grade had fewer social skills and poorer grades (Richardson et al., 1989, as cited in Lumsden, 2003). A study of eighth grade students found that those who were left unsupervised for eleven or more hours a week were two times more likely to smoke, drink, or use marijuana than students who were supervised more closely (Richardson et al., 1989, as cited in Lumsden, 2003).
With such stark consequences associated with leaving school-age children unattended, it is not surprising that there has been an increase of after-school and summer recreation programs. In fact, a survey conducted in 2001 by the National Association of Elementary School Principals revealed that over 66% of principals who served pre-kindergarten through eighth grade indicated that their schools are involved with after-school programs for their students. This is a huge jump from a 1988 survey, which indicated that only 22% of the same types of schools offered any kind of after-school program for their students (Lumsden, 2003).
Besides helping keep students out of trouble and away from high-risk behaviors, high-quality after-school programs for elementary school students can result in better grades for students, improved work habits, and better social relationships with their peers. Studies have also shown that participation in a good after-school program can help students maintain better self-control, avoid conflict, and make constructive choices about their own behavior (Eaton & Quinn, n.d., as cited in Lumsden, 2003). Additionally, research on students participating in after-school programs shows that they increase their standardized test scores and decrease their absenteeism and tardiness rates (Vinluan, 2005).
After-school programs can be run by community organizations, public schools, private schools, church groups, government agencies, and for-profit businesses. Their purposes can vary, but they all provide a safe haven for children. Programs can offer a variety of athletic and physical activities; focus on education by providing tutoring and assistance with homework; offer personal enrichment activities such as music, art, dance, and crafts; or mix programming to meet all children's interests and needs (Shumow, 2001). Programs can occur before and after regular school hours as well as during the summer months, and can cover a vast array of subjects such as corrective education, math and science programs, arts and music clubs, entrepreneurial education programs, tutoring, English as a second language assistance, recreational activities, technology education programs, family literacy programs, special programs for suspended or expelled students, and drug and alcohol prevention programs (U.S. Department of Education, 2007a).
Types of Community-Youth Programs
While a more effective youth program tends try to keep children interested and engaged by proving well rounded activities, there are other programs that focus on specific skills or academic subjects. Some of these programs are (Urban After-School Programs, 1998):
Language Arts Programs
These programs focus on increasing students' language and literacy skills and encourage reading for pleasure. A language arts program can include trips to the local or school library. Parental involvement can also be a key component of such programs. Parents can be encouraged to help their children with their homework, make family trips to the local library, and allow their children less time in front of the television or computer.
Academic Subject Programs
These programs are subject specific and can address any subject the school is teaching, such as science, mathematics, computer technology, history, and English. When offered by the school, these programs can be an extension to the school day, either before school officially starts or after school lets out for the day. They may also continue throughout the summer.
These programs offer one-on-one tutoring for students in certain subject areas. These differ from academic subject programs in that, usually, there are no group activities and students are tutoring in a range of subjects.
Study Skills Programs
These programs are more holistic and less subject specific. They teach students effective study habits, time management skills, how to read a textbook, and other strategies to help them organize and retain information. By improving their study skills, students can to be better prepared for tests and be more successful in the classroom.
These programs do not focus on academic skills, but rather emphasize social, recreational, or cultural activities. With these focuses, academic achievement tends to be a byproduct of participation rather than a goal.
Characteristics of After-School
Those programs that offer a range of activities rather than just tutoring or homework assistance are considered to be more effective at drawing in students and keeping them engaged (Grossman et al., as cited in Lumsden, 2003). By offering a variety of components, such as cooking, computers, sports, music, and art, these programs can more easily bring in students who would otherwise not be interested in participating in the program. Once students start coming to the program and experience all its available offerings, they are more likely to stay, make new friends, further develop their social skills, and get any academic assistance they may need.
An effective after-school or summer program provides academic, cultural, and recreational activities for its participants. The best way to provide effective academic assistance is to work with local schools to develop a program that is aligned with the schools' curriculum. Ideally, the program can hire instructors from the schools to work with the children participating in the program. If that is not possible, then hiring staff with teaching credentials is another option, followed by hiring professional tutors and college students. If the program must rely on volunteers, college students, or other people who do not have teaching credentials, then it is important that they receive appropriate training and ongoing professional development.
Cultural programs can explore a myriad of subjects that are not covered in public schools. Students can learn new skills, develop an appreciation for music and art, and learn social etiquette and develop self-esteem. For older participants, job searching skills such as how to dress for an interview, interviewing skills, and how to develop a good résumé can be addressed.
Recreational programs can provide a safe, inexpensive way for children to participate in sports and physical activities through which they can develop their physical abilities and learn sportsmanship, coping, and...
(The entire section is 3913 words.)