Expanding Youth Opportunities through Afterschool Programs

Press Release
Press Release

Educators and parents from all walks of life know that the African proverb, "it takes a village to raise a child," gets it right. To become thriving members of any community, young people need more than just the love of their guardians or the academic challenges of their teachers; they require a combination of the two, coupled with diverse learning experiences outside of the home and the classroom.

For students across America, afterschool programs are being embraced as a new part of that child-rearing village - incorporating mentors and skills that will help our country's children learn what it takes to be successful post-secondary students and eventual members of the workforce. From enriching students in science, technology, engineering and math to providing diversion programs for at-risk youth, the potential for afterschool programming is vast. At every level - national, state, and local - leaders recognize the importance of expanded learning opportunities, and are committing to strengthening the tools needed to raise and educate our next generation. 

On the statewide level, the Oregon After School for Kids program (OregonASK) is bolstering afterschool efforts to benefit students throughout Oregon. OregonASK works as an afterschool thought leader by developing program resources, offering professional development opportunities, and promoting a policy platform centered on quality afterschool programming for all students.

At the core of OregonASK's mission is a commitment to facilitating partnerships between public and private partners who are invested in elevating afterschool work to a level of institutionalized importance. This extensive coordination effort requires a multifaceted approach to communication and organization, one that is hinged on tailored outreach to diverse partners across the state. With strong connections to both local communities committed to afterschool development, and to national networks including The Afterschool Alliance and the National League of Cities, the OregonASK Afterschool Network is positioned to effectively support students and communities throughout Oregon. 

In the northeast corner of the state, local leaders in Umatilla, Oregon, offer one example of how cross-system partnerships in support of afterschool can serve to benefit students on a smaller scale. For this city of 7,000 with an agriculture-based economy, struggles with poverty, unemployment, and low rates of educational attainment have traditionally discouraged Umatilla students from pursuing higher education.

In an effort to expand local students' understanding of career opportunities outside of Umatilla, Umatilla Public Schools offers extensive afterschool programming focused on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning. Umatilla's "STEM Academy" is supported by outside investment and local buy-in: various foundation grants have made broad K-12 programs possible, and local businesses, community colleges, the school district, and municipal government have strengthened the community's investment.

Umatilla Superintendent Heidi Sipe is quick to emphasize that, in a city so small, everyone is a stakeholder in the success of local students. That level of local confidence in the power of afterschool enrichment has made all the difference for Umatilla students - in 2013 and 2014, the Umatilla Robotics Team competed in the Robotics World Championships. 

Though geographically removed and demographically different from Umatilla, leaders in Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center, Minnesota are also charged with serving students who have grown up facing poverty and unemployment. These suburbs north of the Twin Cities face a number of challenges traditionally associated with the inner city, including youth crime during the afterschool hours.

In 2006, leaders from across the two cities committed to collectively address growing levels of youth violence with a multifaceted approach, aimed at fostering positive relationships with young people and offering alternatives to time spent on the street. With the guidance and support of the Brooklyn Bridge Alliance - comprised by representatives from local police departments; school districts; community colleges; and the Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center city governments - the Brooklyns offer extensive opportunities for local youth to learn and grow.

Through a recently-expanded afterschool recreation center; programming specifically intended to establish positive relationships between local youth and the police force; and substantive leadership opportunities for young people on the Brooklyns Youth Council, leaders in Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center perpetually demonstrate their commitment to offering positive opportunities for students in the community. 

At every level, in communities of every size, leaders are recognizing the value of quality afterschool programming as a tool for expanded learning and enrichment. More than that, communities like Umatilla and the Brooklyns are demonstrating that out-of-school-time hours can be used to address serious gaps and issues that fall through the cracks during the normal school day.

There can be no question: instruction during the afterschool hours is a powerful tool, with the capacity to shift the trajectory for students facing a range of challenges. OregonASK, Umatilla, and the Brooklyns recognize that potential, and are invested in using afterschool programming to support the villages raising our kids. 

At the 2014 Congress of Cities in Austin, Texas, the workshop Afterschool Successes: Small Cities Lead Local Innovation will highlight these communities and how they are providing high quality afterschool opportunities in their cities. In this session participants will gain a better understanding of the importance and the impact of high-quality afterschool programs, as well as understanding the critical role cities can play in promoting and supporting high-quality programs. The session will take place on Friday, November 21st at 10:30 a.m.

Learn more about the Congress of Cities, and register today! The early bird registration deadline is September 30th.

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