Guest post by Michele Ritchlin, Director of the Ohio Afterschool Network
If you were to walk by a school in the afternoon as the bell rang, it might be natural to think that the learning day is done. School buses are filling up and pulling away. Students are walking toward home with their friends. For a brief moment their thoughts have turned away from the book they’re reading or the math homework they have.
But we know that learning is never truly over, and high-quality afterschool programs are a critical part of education, one kids don’t get anywhere else. These programs get kids excited about learning, help them develop critical skills, and stay on track for a bright and successful future. Studies show that kids in afterschool attend school more, get better grades, and are more likely to graduate.
Afterschool programs are essential for Ohio’s children and families but right now too many kids are missing out. In fact, for every child in an afterschool program here in Ohio, five are waiting to get in. Our state policymakers in Columbus and our representatives in Congress must do all they can to make sure every child who wants to can participate in an afterschool program.
To help ensure that all children in Ohio who want to participate in an afterschool program are able, greater investment in afterschool is needed. Support for public funding for afterschool programs in Ohio is high, with 87% of parents in favor of funding for programs that provide afterschool opportunities.
In the face of the ongoing pandemic, parents nationally continue to see afterschool programs as a resource to promote their child’s growth and development while also helping parents maintain or find employment.
In fall 2020, Boys & Girls Clubs expanded their services to provide in-person support for students at school-day learning centers across Northeast Ohio. The programs supported students attending schools that offered virtual learning and provided children with laptop computers and Internet access. These supports were critical for many families, as more than 25% of all households in the region are without Internet access. Club staff members served as adult proctors to help students complete their schoolwork and provided additional stress relieving programs, including art, writing and athletics
This story shows how responsive afterschool programs are to students’ needs and helps them connect and have fun. Programs can inspire interest in growing fields like STEM and help kids build skills like teamwork, communications, and critical thinking. These are skills they’ll use every day and skills that will help them land their first job.
But afterschool doesn’t just work for students. It’s a lifeline for parents too. When parents have afterschool choices, they don’t have to coordinate rides or juggle daily schedule changes. They can work a full day without having to worry about what their children are doing when school lets out.
They know their kids are with caring adults, they’re having fun, they’re learning and trying new things. They know their kids are getting physical activity and are getting help with their homework. Most importantly, their child is safe, protected from risky behaviors both online and offline.
Afterschool helps children learn and grow, and is a huge support to parents. Every child deserves a program like the Boys and Girls Clubs. Unfortunately, too many families are unable to take advantage of the benefits afterschool provides. We’re leaving those kids behind.
We need leaders at all levels to step up. Afterschool is a critical support for our children and families.
On October 28th, the Ohio Afterschool Network will be participating in the annual Lights On Afterschool, a nationwide celebration of afterschool programs. We will be one of more than 8,000 celebrations across the nation sending the message that afterschool is key to children’s success, and that we must keep the lights on and doors open after school. State Legislators, parents, students, media, school officials and others have been invited to the Statehouse to help us rally support for safe, stimulating afterschool programs. We will also be lighting the LeVeque Tower in Downtown Columbus to keep the momentum going through the evening.
As parents and leaders, our most important job is ensuring that we give our children—all children—opportunity to achieve their full potential and build a successful future. Afterschool programs are one of the best ways to do that.
Children benefit from these programs. Parents rely on them. And communities across Ohio need more of them—we cannot let them down.