Young boy building a robot

A Push for More After-School Opportunities from #MPC19

Kids enrolled in after-school or summer enrichment programs might learn athletic or creative skills, how to sing or dance or even expand upon subjects they’re learning about in school, such as math or science.

If done well, research shows kids also benefit from these programs through improved academic achievement, better health, stronger social skills and work habits, as well as increased employment and income as adults.

A Mackinac Policy Conference panel discussion hosted by the Skillman Foundation took up the issue of the availability and quality of after-school programming in Michigan. Panelists urged lawmakers to make state funding available to open opportunities for more children. They also pressed on state residents to demand an increased focus on resources designed to enrich youth in their communities.

According to research from the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University, for every Michigan student in after-school programming, three more would participate if a program were available. More than 200,000 Michigan students are enrolled in some type of extracurricular enrichment program, while more than 625,000 students are waiting for the opportunity.

“We know that the need is out there,” said Matt Gillard, president and CEO, Michigan’s Children. He explained that investing in more after-school programming would protect the investment the state has made in pre-K education.

Since many enrichment opportunities require a fee, the disparity hits low-income kids harder. By 6th grade, middle- and upper-class kids have 4,000 more hours invested in after-school and enrichment programming than their lower-income peers.

Skillman Foundation president and CEO Tonya Allen said the after-school programs she participated in as a child taught her skills that go beyond a new hobby. They gave her a framework for how to succeed. “I learned that persistence, not power, wins,” she explained.

Research shows eight out of 10 employers say those social and emotional skills that can be developed through after-school learning are the most important for employees to have, but the hardest to find in job applicants.

Karen Pittman, president and CEO, The Forum for Youth Investment, said advocates for expanded after-school offerings need to talk about equity, quality and readiness to ensure that all kids have an equal chance to participate to reap future benefits.

Darienne Driver Hudson, president and CEO, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, said programs should be designed around what kids and families need and what they’re asking for. She said her organization works to be a dot connector for families working through a variety of issues related to poverty.

“Young people don’t grow up in programs,” she said. “They grow up in communities.”

Allen concluded the panel discussion saying, “after-school programming is a no-brainer” and challenged attendees to advocate for kids’ futures.

“We can’t leave this to chance,” she said.

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Photo credit: monkeybusinessimages

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