After-School Programs Work
I recently had the opportunity to attend the National After-School Summit at the University of Southern California’s Schwarzenegger Institute. The Summit highlighted exciting work that’s being done around the country and featured speakers from organizations that are providing after-school programs and those that are funding the programs. While the conversations touched on a wide variety of topics, there was one overriding and irrefutable conclusion: after-school programs work. They work on so many levels, keeping kids off the street and focused on getting a college degree. At the Summit, USC Price School of Public Policy Dean Jack H. Knott said “[A]fter-school programs have been helping kids – especially our low-income students, our under-represented minority students and students for whom English is a second language – to improve their grades, improve their graduation rates and have opportunities in STEM, computers, art, music and other programs essential to their dreams and future success.” In the words of Lesly, an HOLA 10th grade student, “HOLA keeps me away from bad influences and encourages me to explore new things.”
But, even though we know after-school programs work, there is a huge need that is not being met. California ranks 36 in the amount spent per pupil on education, causing local school districts to cut the arts and vital social services out of their budgets. Further, according to the Afterschool Alliance, while Federal and State funding provides support for over 700 after-school programs in California, there are estimated to be over 2.5 million children who would participate in a program if a program were available. It’s minority kids living in low income neighborhoods who attend under resourced schools who are being affected disproportionately by the these cuts and the lack of after-school programs. Free access to quality after-school programs is essential if we want to break the cycle of poverty. But, it’s so much more than just keeping kids off of the streets. These programs need to provide high quality programs in a safe and supportive environment. Kids need to reset after a day in school. After-school programs like HOLA provide low income kids with positive alternatives in their own neighborhood. Lesly refers to HOLA as her “second home.” She is grateful for the bonds she has developed with adult mentors. “The staff is there for me, they help me when I’m having trouble at home or having trouble with my homework.”
When kids walk through HOLA’s doors, they are welcomed by a trained staff and dozens of dedicated volunteers who provide programs of the highest quality. Kids who are struggling in school are provided with one-on-one support and all of our kids have the opportunity to engage in dozens of enrichment classes every afternoon. They are offered opportunities that they cannot get inside or outside of school. Their worlds are opened up, and as Lesly told me “I have so many choices at HOLA. I am exposed to so many different things and I can imagine an exciting future.” Programs like HOLA work. Our kids are graduating from high school AND from college. Not only are these kids pulling their families up out of poverty, but many of them are coming back to their communities and paying it forward. That’s creating lasting change.