The Afterschool Alliance just published a study regarding after school programs in the United States. This is the third study of its kind, following in the results from the 2004 and 2009 studies. The group wants to document where and how children spend their time between 3 and 6 PM. The previous studies, along with this one, show that there is a demand for after school programs.’ However, more programming is needed to help reach the approximately 11.3 million children who are unsupervised after school.
The study is full of facts and figures. Such as: 18 percent (10.2 million) children participate in some after school program. This is an increase by nearly 2 million children when the study was conducted five years ago. We can only hope that number will continue to rise. Parents enroll their students in after school programs because it allows them to feel that their children are safe and also in an nurturing and creative environment. Parents that were polled were satisfied with their after school programs when the organization provided a snack, opportunity for physical activity, an environment to complete homework, and also a space for enrichment activities, such as STEM programs.
Income and ethnicity also played a role in the study; students from low-income families make up 45 percent of the students enrolled in after school programs and the most demand for after school programs is highest among African American families. This study confirmed that yes, we as a country are beginning to provide the after school programs our communities need, but a gap still exists.
So what does this mean for libraries and us as librarians? This is an opportunity to us to help out our community and potentially reach the population of people who feel underserved by after school programs. Of those 11.3 million children who are unsupervised, the majority are teens in middle and high school. For libraries, it can mean two things. The first is that we can either create some sort of informal (or formal) after school program or space for our teens to come to. If we foster an environment of learning and fun, we can help create a space the teens will flock to (at least, that’s what we hope). Our other option is reach out to after school programs in the area. We should ask ourselves, Where could the library fit in to their programming? Perhaps we could visit the program, or even just give them information about the library and events you offer. Regardless, establish some connection that says, â€œHey, we’re the library and we are here for you.â€ If we can make our presence known, through establishing a place in our library or through outreach, we have the potential to make connections, ones that will last a long time. The study cited that students were more likely to continue the program into the summer. Hey, we do summer programming and wouldn’t it be great to get more kids involved? After school programs are our â€œin.â€ And in the process, we have the potential to do a lot of good.
So let’s get the conversation going. Are your libraries an after-school spot? What has worked for you? What has not? Since the study does not explicitly cite libraries as a spot for after-school program or programming, I’m curious to know what our librarians are already doing from that 3-6 PM time zone.