Report calls for more, better afterschool care

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Capital News Service
LANSING– Michigan is making progress in expanding afterschool programs but it still has a high percentage of children who take care of themselves after school, a new report shows.
Only 12 percent of children in grades kindergarten to 12 participate in afterschool programs, according to the Michigan Association of School Boards. Another 31 percent are responsible for taking care of themselves after school.
Thirty-five percent of those not in afterschool would be likely to participate if a program were available in their community, according to America After 3PM, which surveyed nearly 30,000 households across the U.S.
Today, 15 percent of middle school students and 7 percent of elementary school children in Michigan are have afterschool care.
“The largest obstacle of afterschool programs in Michigan is always the funding. Primarily, the majority of programs are privately funded, parents funded and community funded.” Mary Sutton, executive director of the Michigan Afterschool Partnership, said.
“The other challenge is sustainable staffing. Because of the low pay, the low wages, there are a lot of transitory staffs. And in the last couple of years, we are really feeling the career lack and the need to increase the quality and the professionalism of the field to address some of those issues,” she said.
The 21st Century Community Learning Centers in Battle Creek is federally funded and offers activities for students in high-poverty and low-performing schools during non-school hours.
“Our main funding comes from the federal government,” said DeeAnn Whistler, secretary of the center. “That funding decreased 10 percent in 2011, so we have to adjust our programs to make up for the difference in funding.”
She said the program will cut staff and transportation while looking for funding elsewhere.
“We have nine elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools offering academic support, especially in math and reading,” Whistler said. “Our program has certified teachers that teach after school, and they make sure that students’ homework is completed before they go home.”
Research compiled by the Afterschool Alliance, a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to ensure that all children have access to affordable, quality afterschool programs,” shows that quality programs improve students’ academic and behavioral development. These students are more likely to come to school, be engaged in their regular lessons and gain better test grades.
“Quality programs can reinforce and extend learning in a supportive environment,” said Dorothy Armstrong, a professor of education at Grand Valley State University. “The environment of these programs is often more informal than that of the school program. This, too, is a benefit.”
John Austin, president of the state Board of Education, agrees.
“Afterschool learning, tutoring and educational and recreational activities can importantly enhance skills for many students that need more time and provide a positive learning environment for students who otherwise might be at sea in the community and engaged in poor activities,” said Austin, D-Ann Arbor.
Nearly nine in 10 parents in Michigan are satisfied with afterschool programs’ quality, according to America After 3PM. However, people have different interpretations of quality.
“Any kind of thing that adds value to the children is quality,” said Tom Watkins, the former state schools superintendent. “If it is just a lousy afterschool program, all they do is come to some big buildings, grab some potato chips, cookies and Coke and sit behind a TV screen, that’s not good.
“You can call that afterschool — that’s better than running wild on the streets, but not much better,” he said.
Some officials say the state should focus on core issues and not “afterschool care” during the current economic crisis and should redirect afterschool funds to add time to the regular school day.
But Austin said, “Today, afterschool is used to support in-school academic and development needs and demands, and it is totally linked. In effect, it is a longer school day already, so it should be sustained and enhanced.”
Afterschool programs help students learn the material and master necessary skills, he added.
© 2012, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.

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