Study points to need for more after school programs

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A new study released Wednesday found more than a quarter of Chicago
students are in after school activities, compared to just 15 percent
nationwide. But of those students who are not, 30 percent spend their
afternoons home alone.

A new study released Wednesday found more than a quarter of Chicago students are in after school activities, compared to just 15 percent nationwide. But of those students who are not, 30 percent spend their afternoons home alone.

That a third of Chicago’s children are not supervised for so many hours worries officials. More funding is needed, said Jodi Grant, the executive director of Afterschool Alliance, which released the Chicago After 3PM at a press conference.

 “When we passed No Child Left Behind, they promised $2.5 billion in after school funding,” she said. “We’re at $1.1 billion.  We need a lot more from our federal government to be supporting this.”

The results of the Chicago After 3PM report were announced at a press conference that came on the eve a national event called “Lights On Afterschool.” “Lights On Afterschool seeks to bring attention to the need for quality after school programs.

Chicago has been at the forefront of the movement to create a better system of after school programs. In 2006, it was one of five cities to receive an $11 million grant from the Wallace Foundation to focus on out-of-school activities for students. 

With that grant, Chicago officials have worked to reduce after school programming fragmentation and inefficiency while improving access and quality.  Partner agencies, including CPS, the Chicago Park District and Chicago Public Libraries, began compiling their program data in 2003 to determine what areas of the city showed the highest need.

This data pointed to some problems. City agencies found it difficult to provide after school programs in areas that were experiencing an influx of young families, according to a recently released report by the Rand Corporation. 

The Rand report notes that after school programs struggled to reach students on the southwest and northwest sides of the city, which had burgeoning populations of Latino families. Meanwhile, they had open spots in schools near public housing projects after the projects were demolished.

“Partner agencies understood the need to provide services where there was increasing demand. However, these groups faced some very real constraints in shifting services to meet growing demand,” according to the report.

Overall, current programs are effective, but offer limited space. 

For example, more than 6,300 programs are available to CPS teens through After School Matters, an organization that offers drop-in activities and work-related apprentices to teenagers. Two to five students apply for every one available spot, Daley said. 

With an $80 million budget, CPS supports after school initiatives in addition to After School Matters. Last year, they served about 200,000 students in 548 elementary and high schools. 

Students in these programs have tended to yield higher grades.  According to the Rand report, some of the CPS-funded programs demonstrated a link between after school participation and student achievement in the classroom. 

This evidence has already resulted in a policy change. The report’s authors said that CPS officials got “principals to reconsider policies that disallowed students with low grades or behavior problems from attending [after school] programs, since these programs might help improve these sorts of outcomes.”

In the press conference this morning, Mayor Richard M. Daley said that students and parents who aren’t able to afford after school programming or secure a subsidized spot should take advantage of the city’s public libraries and parks, which offer free supervision while parents are away.

Daley also said report shows that more students are able to participate.