Why We Need After-School Programs

By Jeremy Monk
Social Connectedness Fellow

On March 16, 2017, President Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, stated that there is no evidence that after-school extracurricular programs have been successful. The administration’s belief that these programs are not supporting children and not improving academic results led to the recommendation of a $1.2 billion cut to after-school and summer programs.

However, Director Mulvaney’s argument is not supported by research and evidence. For example, in addition to studies contradicting Mulvaney, the Department of Education’s evaluation of 21st Century Community Learning Centers (a federally funded after-school program that would be cut under the new budget) concluded that the program helped improve student achievement and behavior.

As the current administration promotes school choice and charter schools as the solution to underperforming public education, it is neglecting a vital aspect of formal schooling: holistic personal development. While curriculum design and classroom environments are slowly shifting to include the goals of holistic education, extra-curricular activities have long been a hub for social connectedness, engagement and learning for students.

Why are the proposed federal cuts and negative rhetoric concerning after-school programs so alarming? These cuts will directly affect poorer children and schools who rely on these federal funds for numerous extra-curricular activities. According to a 2015 article in The Atlantic, after-school programs were already growing more unequal, exacerbating the income-achievement gap, decreasing student engagement in and out of school, and reducing the connections and skills important for academic and personal growth.[i] If education is to help children find employment, gain skills and become responsible citizens, all of these negative impacts must be remedied and after-school programs re-prioritized. There is a lot of room for improvement in public school, in the United States and in other countries, and accessible extra-curricular activities can play a role in improving education and child development.

The 2011 paper, “Positive Effects of Extra-Curricular Activities on Students,” underscores the academic, social and behavioral impacts that after-school programs have on children. In terms of holistic development, these programs have shown to improve attitudes towards education, encourage responsible citizenry, and promote teamwork, understanding and other important social skills.[ii] More in-depth research demonstrates additional positive outcomes. For example, being a part of an extra-curricular activity leads many children to volunteer for community organizations and engage in other community endeavours.[iii] Engagement in school programs at a young age also leads to increased social participation in adulthood.

In 2015, the Afterschool Alliance, a nonpartisan group that supports programs for students, published a summary of formal evaluations of after-school programs. In addition to all of the positive academic achievements, Afterschool Alliance found that children enrolled in after-school programs had improved self-respect and confidence, were more likely to speak up when there was a problem and had better social skills.[iv]

Extra-curricular activities are often the first education programs to be cut in times of austerity; however, research has consistently shown that they can have a great impact on children when implemented and properly funded. Notably, the Global Family Research Project believes that significant progress has been made in the past 15 years in how after-school programs, especially for low-income children, improve social and emotional development, connectedness and initiative.[v] But while millions of children have been given the opportunity to be engaged, feel included, and learn social and teamwork skills through these programs, cutting billions of dollars will ultimately restrict them and hurt children.

On March 18, following the release of the proposed budget, The Guardian published an opinion piece by someone deeply impacted by after-school programs. In this testimonial, the author states how after-school programs ensured “I was intellectually stimulated, socialized and safe” in the limbo between school and pick-up by a parent. As a product of the public education system myself, and as someone who spent every Monday to Friday from 2:30pm to 5:00pm in an after-school program while my parents were at work, I, too, have experienced the benefits of these programs. I made some of my best friends playing dodgeball in the gym. I learned how to organize my time during supervised homework hour. I sharpened my teamwork skills in a woodworking class and learned the importance of inclusivity through book club.

After-school programs worldwide are a safe haven for children, where connectedness and holistic personal development flourish. Let us not forget the importance of these programs and the benefits that accompany them for millions of children.

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[i] Wong, Alia. “The Activity Gap.” The Atlantic, January 30, 2015. https://www.theatlanic.com/education/archive/2015/01/the-activity-gap/384961/.

[ii] Massoni, Erin. “Positive Effects of Extra Curricular Activities on Students.” ESSAI 9, no. 27 (April 2011): 84-87. http://dc.cod.edu/cgi/viewconent.cgi?article=1370&context=essay.

[iii] Zaff, Jonathan F., Kristin A. Moore, Angela Romano Papillo , and Stephanie Williams “Implications of Extracurricular Activity Participation during Adolescence on Positive Outcomes.” Journal of Adolescent Research 18, no. 6 (November 2003): 599-630. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0743558403254779.

[iv] Afterschool Alliance. Evaluations Backgrounder: A Summary of Formal Evaluations of Afterschool Programs’ Impact on Academics, Behavior, Safety and Family Life. March 2015. http://afterschoolalliance.org//documents/Evaluation_Backgrounder.pdf

[v] Harvard Family Research Project, Priscilla M.D. Little, Christopher Wimer, and Heather B. Weiss. After School Programs in the 21st Century: Their Potential and What it Takes to Achieve It. February 2008. http://www.hfrp.org/publications-resources/publications-series/issues-and-opportunities-in-out-of-school-time-evaluation/after-school-programs-in-the-21st-century-their-potential-and-what-it-takes-to-achieve-it.