WASHINGTON – At least 300 children from as far away as Nevada will converge on Capitol Hill Thursday to implore their congressional leaders to support more funding for afterschool programs.
A study conducted by the Afterschool Alliance and released at a news conference Wednesday found that 14.3 million – or one-fourth – of America's K-12 school children take care of themselves after the school day ends. Roughly 4 million of these latchkey children are sixth to eighth graders and 42,000 are kindergartners.
“This is an issue that cuts through all the demographics in American life,” said Ken Gladish,executive director of the YMCA of the USA. “It reaches into the home of every conceivable American family.”
The Afterschool Alliance made the data public in its report,“America After 3 PM: A Household Survey on Afterschool in America.”
While only 11 percent of U.S. K-12 youth are enrolled in afterschool programs,parents of another 15.3 million children would have their children participate if programs were available.
“Too many parents face an unattractive decision – leaving their children alone in the afternoons or keeping their jobs,” said Mayor David Cicilline of Providence,R.I.
YMCA's,religious organizations,Boys and Girls Clubs and private schools follow public schools as the largest providers of afterschool programs.
Judy Samelson,executive director of Afterschool Alliance,said that an ideal afterschool program involves choice,ensures that there are caring adults and ensures a balance between academic activities and down time.
The “danger zone” hours of 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. are when children become victims or perpetrators of criminal acts or are involved in troublesome behavior that would not have taken place under the supervision of an adult,the report said.
Ashley Adeloye,12,participates in a 21st Century Community Learning Center at her middle school in Las Vegas. Ashley stays busy for three hours after school – under adult supervision – where she attends math and reading classes,works on set designing and practices karate,among other activities.
“I get all my homework done,” said the seventh grader,who also plays soccer and basketball.
Ashley,the middle child of three living with her mother,a single parent,said her 8-year-old sister is also in the program.
The Afterschool Alliance found that the top three reasons parents selected an afterschool program were for a child's enjoyment,affordability and a convenient location.
The Afterschool Alliance wants to make afterschool programs accessible to all American children by 2010. President Bush's No Child Left Behind law,which passed in 2002,has proposed $2 billion next year for programs like the one Ashley Adeloye attends. The alliance supports that funding level.
Across the country,91 percent of parents of children in afterschool programs are satisfied with their choice.
About 25 percent of African-American children and 15 percent of Hispanic participate in afterschool programs. More than 90 percent of parents of African-American children and 88 percent of parents of Hispanic children in afterschool programs reported being either “extremely” or “somewhat satisfied” with the programs.
Some parents have opted to place their children in traditional child care centers,sibling care or non-parental adult care,such as a grandparent or neighbor,the report said.
Educators,parents and afterschool program advocates will join the children on Capitol Hill Thursday to meet with congressional leaders,including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton,D-N.Y.,and Sen. Maria Cantwell,D-Wash.,who support more funding for afterschool programs,Samelson said.
“If your kids,or kids in the neighborhood,have contact with me,then it's too late,” said Police Chief Gary Reynolds of Winchester,Va.
“It's all about the prevention,” he said.