by Bela Shah Spooner
More than 75 municipal and school district officials from cities and towns across South Carolina gathered in Charleston, S.C., on July 15 to participate in a statewide mayoral summit on afterschool and expanded learning. The event was sponsored by the South Carolina Afterschool Alliance (SCAA) in partnership with NLC, the Municipal Association of South Carolina (MASC), Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Co-chaired by Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., and Williamston, S.C., Mayor A. Carthel Crout, the summit brought together mayors, council members and superintendents to develop specific, measurable goals and action steps for improving the range of afterschool learning opportunities for children and youth.
NLC's Leadership Training Institute helped organize the event as a pre-conference training session at the MASC annual meeting. The gathering was one of five statewide mayoral summits on afterschool that NLC's Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) is supporting through technical assistance and small financial grants made available through the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. The YEF Institute has also partnered with statewide afterschool networks and state municipal leagues to organize summits in Arizona, Georgia, Iowa and Michigan.
Maximizing Local Resources
City and school district leaders participating in the Charleston meeting worked together to develop at least one goal that they could accomplish in the next six months to make progress in improving afterschool opportunities. In addition to assessing the availability of afterschool programs in their communities, many city officials determined that convening a broad group of stakeholders around this issue would be an achievable short-term goal.
"Partnerships are key to a successful future for cities and towns," said SCAA Executive Director Zelda Quiller Waymer. "Municipal leadership coupled with local education leadership can foster conversations to link schools, afterschool programs, city services and the business community."
Jacquie Kennedy, director of the Mayor's Office for Children, Youth and Families in Charleston, shared examples of how the city offers out-of-school time learning opportunities through its recreation and police departments. "We have to creatively explore the resources that we have to support our children after school," said Kennedy.
Many participants shared the ongoing efforts of their cities to partner with the faith-based community. Local churches can often provide facilities, volunteers and mentors. They may also own vans that are being driven only one day per week and could be used to transport youth to afterschool programs.
Afterschool Learning and the Bottom Line
Domenic Giandomenico, director of education and workforce programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, underscored the direct impact that high-quality afterschool learning opportunities can have on a local workforce.
"America's high school dropouts in 2008 will cost the nation $300 billion over the course of their lifetimes in lost earnings," said Giandomenico, who provided data showing the return on investment of afterschool programs that help improve high school graduation rates. "Afterschool education is a public health issue, a public safety issue, a neighborhood development issue and essentially an economic development issue."
Marie McGehee, a representative of Colonial Life, concurred. "Children are our future workforce. Afterschool helps them develop the traits and skills that employers want," said McGehee.
Judge William R. Byars Jr., director of the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice, gave impassioned remarks about how afterschool programs save public dollars by keeping young people out of the juvenile justice system.
"We are losing our children," said Byars. "One-third of the kids in jail come from families making less than $10,000 a year and a third have no mother or father. It costs $300 a day or $100,000 a year to lock a child up. It costs $100 a day to put a youth in a wilderness camp. Placing a child with an intensive supervision officer costs $7.40 a day. But teen afterschool centers cost $1.50 a day. These issues echo across South Carolina, and we can all come together around a common goal [of supporting afterschool programs]."
Summit participants expressed interest in convening again to discuss progress on their goals. In response, SCAA invited participating municipal and school district leaders to its annual meeting in Columbia, S.C., in September to continue the conversations and provide cities with assistance.