opinion- after school

Opinion: Why education needs to continue after the bell rings

By James Doyle

Executive Director, Higher Achievement

After school programs changed my life. These programs are vital to the well-being, education and development of our local kids.

When I look back on my childhood, my years in middle school stand out as some of the hardest to get through. I felt awkward in my own skin, like I couldn’t find my place in this much larger school with kids I didn’t know and groups with which I didn’t quite fit.

I was confused and lost without direction. But after-school programs helped me through it.

When I got involved with after-school programs, I met positive, consistent adult mentors who introduced me to different outlooks on situations, new ideas and opportunities, and a type of encouragement I hadn’t known before. These mentors supported me and helped me be successful as a person and as a student.

After-school programs are so important, as students spend much more time in this space than they do in school – 17 hours out versus seven hours in. We need to be as deliberate as possible in filling these hours with as much high-quality programming as possible.

I am certainly not the only one who has benefitted from the positive experiences at an after-school program. Kids who participate in after-school programs are proven to have better social skills, self-esteem and attitudes. They demonstrate better classroom behavior, model leadership skills, and ultimately, have fun while learning with their peers.

Students discover possible career paths and prepare for their futures at after-school programs. They are exposed to new opportunities. They might even decide they want to pursue a career in accounting or social work, or become a government official based on a conversation with a mentor or adult.

What’s more, after-school programs are proven to increase school attendance, while reducing drug use. After-school programs provide a safe, caring environment for our kids.

It’s quite simple. After-school programs work.

And yet, only 28 percent of Allegheny County children participate in one, but 70 percent of Allegheny County parents say their child would be enrolled in an after-school program if there was one available to them.

We need to fix this. We need to provide our local kids with after-school programs that excite them, engage them and enrich their lives.

At Higher Achievement, we provide a learning environment replete with skilled educators, youth development staff, volunteer mentors, and a culture of high expectations to middle school youth year-round.  This environment prepares middle school scholars for college by sparking deep engagement with learning and preparation for the rigors of high school.

We are proud to be joined by many other local organizations supporting students of all ages in quality out-of-school time experiences. But together, we can do more. As this school year comes to a close, we – parents, agencies, community members, and more – should consider how, as a community, we can work together to help ensure our children are still learning and growing long after the school day ends.