It's 3 p.m.
The school bell rings.
For a lot of kids it's a moment of excitement, signaling the end of the school day.
But for many, the end of the school day means the start of an afternoon without direction, without productive activities, and maybe even without supervision.
For kids and families in need, afterschool programs provide essential services like a safe and supervised environment, enriching activities, healthy snacks and meals, and caring and supportive mentors.
But according to a report released by the Afterschool Alliance, the unmet demand for afterschool programs in rural communities is high – especially among Hispanic, African-American, and low-income families.
The study found that in 2014, 13 percent of children in rural communities, about 1.2 million kids, participated in an afterschool program.
And while it was up from 11 percent in 2009, it's still less than the 18 percent of students who participate in these programs nationwide.
The survey of 30,000 U.S. households also found that for every rural child in an afterschool program, two would be enrolled if there was one available to them.
The percentage of rural children who would be enrolled in an afterschool program if one were available held steady over the past five years, remaining close to the national average, but leaving many interested students and families without access.
Barriers between rural kids and afterschool programs
While more rural kids are participating in afterschool programs, there are 3.1 million kids who are unable to participate in a program even though their parents would like to enroll them.
So, what is standing in the way of these kids? There are four key barriers rural families find themselves up against:
Among rural parents with a child in an afterschool program, 6 in 10 (59 percent) agree that current economic conditions have made it difficult to afford placing their child in a program. The average weekly cost of afterschool programs for rural parents in 2014 was almost double what was reported in 2009, increasing from $51.86 to $95.80.
For rural parents with a child in an afterschool program, approximately 1 in 3 parents (32 percent) report that a very important factor in their selection of an afterschool program is that no other afterschool programs were available, higher than what rural parents reported in 2009 (24 percent). Additionally, approximately 2 in 3 rural parents (67 percent) with a child in an afterschool program agreed that it was challenging to find an enriching environment for their child in the hours after school, 7 percentage points higher than parents living outside of rural areas (60 percent).
Among rural parents who do not have a child in an afterschool program, but would enroll him or her if a program were available, close to half (46 percent) report that they opted not to select an afterschool program because of the lack of a safe way for their child to get to and come home from the program, and 42 percent said that inconvenient program locations factored into their decision.
Knowledge of afterschool programs:
A review of the responses by rural parents with children not enrolled in afterschool programs reveals a lack of information about afterschool programs in their community, particularly when compared to parents living in cities and suburbs.
Why are afterschool programs important?
Effective afterschool programs bring a wide range of benefits to youth, families and communities. Students participating in afterschool programs have improved grades and classroom behavior, and increased physical activity.
Working families and businesses both benefit from afterschool programs, according to Youth.gov:
Parents concerned about their children’s afterschool care miss an average of eight days of work per year, and this decreased worker productivity costs businesses up to $300 billion annually.
Participation in afterschool programs has also been associated with reduced drug use and criminal behavior. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, juvenile violence peaks in the afterschool hours on school days.
Getting more kids into afterschool programs
In February, the Obama administration released its $4 trillion budget request for fiscal year 2017, calling for $1 billion in funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Center Intiative - the only federal funding source dedicated solely to afterschool, before-school, and summer learning programs.
That's $167 million less than this year's appropriation.
Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance said last month in a press release:
At this time when one in five students is unsupervised after the school day ends, it is a real disappointment that the administration is not proposing to at least continue the slow, steady progress toward making afterschool programs - and the safe, supervised, hands-on learning opportunities they offer - available to all students.
The cuts would lead to more than 100,000 kids losing afterschool programs, Grant told Education Week.
Quality afterschool programs keep students safe, inspire them to learn, and help working families. They are a valuable gateway to a more secure and successful future, but there aren't nearly enough afterschool programs to meet the need in rural America. It should be a high priority for our leaders to change that.
Afterschool Alliance offers recommendations to help give children in rural communities the ability to participate in quality afterschool programs:
- Make information about afterschool programs more readily available to parents in rural communities;
- Increase national attention to the essential role afterschool programs play in rural communities;
- Provide opportunities to share promising practices and resources for rural afterschool programs, through conferences, symposia and/or an online resource or hub geared to rural communities;
- Increase STEM programming in rural afterschool programs; and
- Increase the investment in afterschool programs serving rural communities.
Are you looking for a quality afterschool program? The Afterschool Alliance has some tips on where to start here.