Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sue Scheff: Afterschool Programs - Keeping Teens Busy

“The highest juvenile crime rate is between three and six p.m. - and in many neighborhoods, the juveniles that are doing that crime or getting in trouble are between the ages of 11 and 14 or 15 years old, and that’s the middle school.”

– Walt Thompson, Executive Director, After School All-Stars

Every day the recession continues, more after-school programs are forced to close their doors. This despite studies that show when teens don’t go to an after-school program they are three times more likely to smoke pot, drink alcohol, skip school and have sex.

And yet, each day, when the school bell rings, more than 14 million American kids are left alone.

Experts say those hours after school are the most dangerous - especially for kids in middle school.

“The highest juvenile crime rate is between three and six p.m. - and in many neighborhoods, the juveniles that are doing that crime or getting in trouble are between the ages of 11 and 14 or 15 years old, and that’s the middle school,” explains Walt Thompson, Executive Director of the Georgia chapter of After School All-Stars.

Many high school kids have a job or sports, or some after-school activity. But middle-schoolers, Thompson says, “they are the neglected age…if you go into the neighborhoods, those are the kids that are creating havoc in the neighborhoods, those are the kids that are getting arrested, those are the kids that are doing drugs, those are the kids that are getting initiated into gangs and the girls are getting pregnant.”

That’s why, experts say, it’s crucial for parents to find an after-school program for their kids.

And the best place to start is your child’s school.

“It provides structure, provides somewhere for kids to come, be with children of their own age involved in constructive activities,” explains Tresa Andrews, principal of King Middle School.

Andrews hosts the After School All-Stars program at her school. She says keeping kids in one place is essential, “They don’t have the opportunity to, quote-unquote, become lost trying to get from one location to another,” she notes. “We’re here.”

Ashley Carlisle, 14, is in the program. Here she can finish her homework and spend more time with her friends.

Ashley’s mom says the program is invaluable. “It helps me because I’m running in the morning to one job,” she says, “and I used to worry cause the area I live in - to me- is not as a secure area that I would like for it to be, and I worry about her in the afternoons.”

Experts say kids in after-school programs have better grades, higher attendance rates and are less likely to commit a crime.

Thompson says it’s a win-win situation for everyone. “If you take that kid that may get in trouble and put them in a structured environment,” he says, “it’s got to be good. Whether it has an influence on their grades or whatever, if they’re in a structured program with loving and caring adults, it’s got to be a good thing.”

Tips for Parents
The National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center defines after-school programs as safe, structured activities that convene regularly in the hours after school and offer activities to help children learn new skills and develop into responsible adults. Activities may cover such topics as technology, reading, math, science and the arts. And the programs may also offer new experiences for children, such as community service, internships or tutoring and mentoring opportunities.

As a parent, why should you consider an after-school program for your child? Without structured, supervised activities in the after-school hours, youth are at greater risk of being victims of crime or participating in antisocial behaviors. In fact, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reports that juveniles are at the highest risk of being a victim of violence between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. And the peak hour for juvenile crime is from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., the first hour that most students are dismissed from school.

If you are interested in enrolling your child in an after-school program, you have several different types from which to choose. The Educational Resources Information Center says that a good after-school program should offer children the chance to have fun and feel comforted, as well as motivate them to learn. The best programs offer a comprehensive set of activities that do the following for your child:

■Foster his or her self-worth and develop his or her self-care skills
■Develop his or her personal and interpersonal social skills and promote respect for cultural diversity.
■Provide help with homework, tutoring and other learning activities
■Provide time and space for quiet study
■Provide new, developmentally appropriate enrichment activities to add to his or her learning at school, help him or her develop thinking and problem-solving skills and spark curiosity and love of learning
■Provide recreational and physical activities to develop physical skills and constructively channel his or her energy pent up after a day sitting in a classroom
■Encourage participation in individual sports activities to help develop self-esteem by striving for a personal best, and participation in group sports to provide lessons about cooperation and conflict resolution
■Provide age-appropriate job readiness training
■Provide information about career and career-training options, preferably through firsthand experiences with community business leaders and tours of local businesses
Some programs may be excellent while others may be lacking in resources and staff, and therefore, less attractive to parents. It is important when choosing an after-school program to ask questions, visit the facility and get to know the staff.

■Boys & Girls Clubs of America
■Educational Resources Information Center
■National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center
■Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

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