Do you know what your child is doing when the school bell rings at the end of the day? More than 14 million students leave school every afternoon and have nowhere to go, since they do not have access to affordable, after-school opportunities. According to the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center (NYVPRC), nine out of ten Americans think all youth should have access to after-school programs, but two-thirds of parents say they have trouble finding programs locally. The bad news is that the situation may be getting worse.
After-school hours are the peak time for juvenile crimes and risky behaviors, including alcohol and drug use. NYVPRC found that children who do not spend any time in after-school activities are 49 percent more likely to have used drugs and 37 percent more likely to become a teen parent. Kids are also at the highest risk of becoming a victim of violence after school, particularly between the hours of 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. The highest amount of juvenile crime occurs between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., the hour after most children are dismissed from school.
The NYVPRC defines after-school programs as safe, structured activities that convene on a regular basis in the after-school hours and offer children opportunities to learn new skills. The skills students learn can range from technology and math to reading and art. Some programs also offer opportunities for internships, community service, or mentoring. These programs have been shown to improve academic achievement, as well as relieve the stresses on working families. According to the NYVPRC, most experts agree that after-school activities can serve as important strategies for youth violence prevention and intervention, and can also help students develop into responsible adults. A report by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S Department of Justice shows that students in after-school programs have fewer behavioral problems and more self-confidence, and can handle conflicts better than students who are not involved with these programs. In addition, according to the Harvard Family Research Project, after-school programs help students from low-income families overcome the inequities they face in the school system.