Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Educating After-School Champions

The Afterschool Alliance published the Afterschool Advocate to keep those of us in the world of after-school up to speed about the current state of affairs. The national organization has done much to keep the cause of after-school front and center in national, state, and city politics. In a story in the Afterschool Advocate, (Volume 11, Issue 12) published December 23, 2010, the Alliance published the findings of a recent poll. Following is the information they published.

“Facing the worst economic climate in decades, mayors across the country have made the difficult decision to cut afterschool programs and more, according to a new Reader's Digest/Harris Interactive poll. The purpose of the poll was to discern the level of cutbacks in city services that communities across the country have made as a result of the recession.

According to the poll, 22 percent of mayors said they had already reduced or cancelled afterschool opportunities for children in their communities. Additionally, three out of four mayors said they expect financial challenges to worsen in the coming year, and 39 percent said the worsening will be substantial.

To help communities that are struggling, Reader's Digest is sponsoring "We Hear You America," an online contest offering cities a share of $5 million in funds and promotional support.”

While the desire to balance the budget is understandable, the impact of cutting after-school programs weighs heavily on any community. First of all, people who were working now find themselves unemployed. Although many after-school staff members are part time workers, this part time employment met the needs of that person and/or family, and now they are having to adjust to hundreds of dollars less each month. Secondly, for people who still have a job, having a safe place for children to be in the hours after-school has been replaced by expensive child care or students going home to an empty house. Third, for the youth who attended these cut programs, who will help them complete homework, who will engage them in enrichment activities, and who will encourage them to be physically active. Data tell us that both crimes committed by youth and against youth decrease when neighborhoods are served by after-school programs, which would lead one to believe that these things will increase without the programs, creating a bigger demand on law enforcement.

So what can we do as after-school providers? We can intentionally begin to educate civic leaders by inviting them to our programs, sharing with them the work that we are doing, and connecting them to our students and families. Get a list of the leaders in your community on a city, county, state, and national level, and go to work. When civic leaders are making budget cuts they need to see your program in their mind’s eye so they can realize what is at stake. Write a letter, send an email, call on the phone, invite them to your program. Make this education a part of your every day routine.

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