Many disadvantaged students in urban and rural environments lack the day-to-day experiences that stimulate their intellectual development. After-school opportunities have positive effects on academic success, social behavior, and provide opportunities for enrichment for at-risk students.
There are a multitude of youth programs available, but many are inaccessible to inner-city and rural youth. These youth have fewer programs from which to choose than those in the suburbs. Urban youth often turn to gangs and the drug trade for protection, friends, and job opportunities due to lack of parental authority. The rural areas tend to lack the level of violence of inner cities, but there are still problems. A disproportionately large share of the poor is enrolled in rural schools. Rural areas are characterized by geographic isolation, declining population, and inadequate community facilities which acerbate the problems related to economic hardship and racial and ethnic tensions (Green & Schneider, 1990).
Each weekday afternoon, at least 8 million "latchkey" children are left alone and unsupervised (Department of Education, 2002). Only 20% of a child's waking hours are spent in school (Miller, 1995). Both parents are in the labor force and children are left unsupervised after school and during summer vacations. The highest crime rate during the week is from 3:00-7:00 p.m. No child will be left behind when quality after-school programs are available in every school and all children have the same safe, nurturing, enriching, and character-building opportunities (Life before after-school programs, 2002). After-school programs may be the only opportunity for at-risk students to have quality academic support, recreation, or cultural enrichment activities such as music and dance.
The Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk (CRESPAR) has identified three types of after-school programs: day-care, after-school, and extended-school day programs.
Proponents of after-school programs believe that they have a positive effect on the academic success and social behavior of at-risk students. A study by Posner and Vandell (1999) found that children who participated in quality after-school programs were better emotionally adjusted and had better peer relationships. The Quantum Opportunities Program (QOP), a year-round program, has proved to be very successful. A comparison of youth who participated for four years and those who did not found that QOP students graduated from high school more often (63% vs. 42%), went on to postsecondary education more often (42% versus 16%), and dropped out of school less often (23% versus 50%) (Hahn, 1994). After-school programs provide hope and open youth to a wide range of possibilities.
A recent report on California's after-school programs found many positive impacts that resulted from the programs (Department of Education, 2002). Participating students demonstrated increased achievement, regular attendance, good behavior, and a reduction in grade retention. Those at-risk students in the lowest quartile on standardized test scores and English Language Learners showed the greatest improvement. Students also showed improved social skills and behavior which resulted in fewer disciplinary incidents at school and fewer suspensions. There was a 53.4% decrease in retention in the primary grades associated with the program. The cost savings to the state as a result of the decrease in student retention is substantial. Savings in 2001-2002 are projected at more than $11 million. Additional savings are realized as a result of a reduction in juvenile crime. The programs are also highly cost effective; the cost is $1.67 per student per hour of participation. It is estimated that more than 100,000 youth are being served (Department of Education, 2002).
Peterson and Fox (2004) suggest the following key components of effective programs:
Department of Education, University of California at Irvine. (2002). Evaluation of California's after-school learning and safe neighborhoods partnerships program: 1999-2001. Sacramento, CA California Department of Education. Retrieved June 10, 2002. Available: www.cde.ca.gov/ls/ba/as/documents/execsummary.asp.
Fashola, O.S. (1998). Review of extended-day and after-school programs and their effectiveness. (CRESPAR Report No. 24). Retrieved March 2, 2004. Available: www.csos.jhu.edu/crespar/techReports/Report24.pdf.
Green, B.L., and Schneider, M. J. (1990). Threats to funding for rural schools. Journal of Education Finance, 15, 302-318.
Hahn, A. (1994, October). Promoting youth development in urban communities: Unprecedented success for the Quantum Opportunities Program. (A Forum Brief). Retrieved February 6, 2004. Available: http://www.aypf.org/forumbriefs/1994/fb102894.htm.
Life before after-school programs. (2002, July/August). Community Update, 98, 9.
Miller, B. M. (1995). Out-of-school time: Effects on learning in the primary grades. Action Research Paper No. 4, Wellesley, MA: National Institute on Out-of-School Time, Wellesley College.
Peterson, T. K. and Fox, B. (2004). After-school program experiences: A time and tool to reduce dropouts. In J. Smink & F. P. Schargel (Eds.), Helping students graduate: A strategic approach to dropout prevention (pp. 177-184). Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.
Posner, J.K., and Vandell, D.L. (1999). After-school activities and the development of low-income urban children: A longitudinal study. Developmental-Psychology, 35 (3), 868-79.