By Katie Landes, Director of GSAN
October 23rd marked the 15th annual Lights On Afterschool – a national celebration of the importance of afterschool and the resources needed for quality out-of-school time programs to keep their doors open and lights on at the end of every school day. This year, Georgia demonstrated increased support with Governor Deal declaring October 20th – 24th Georgia’s first Lights On Afterschool Week. Across the country, more than 8,000 communities celebrated the national day with celebrations also taking place all across Georgia – the 6th most in the nation!
Last month, the Afterschool Alliance also released a major new study that has good news and bad news for our nation’s – and Georgia’s – children, families and communities. The good news is that more than 10 million students in the United States are now in afterschool programs, a figure that is up from 6.5 million ten years ago. In Georgia, more than 280,000 youth currently participate in afterschool programs.
But the new study has bad news as well: for every child in an afterschool program in the United States, the parents of two more say that they would enroll their child in an afterschool program, if one were available. Here in Georgia, the results are very similar. The parents of nearly 600,000 students say they would enroll their child, if an afterschool program were available.
The unmet need for afterschool programs translates into missed opportunities for our kids. Many children without afterschool programs are unsupervised after the school days ends, in sibling care, or missing out on activities that would help them expand their horizons.
Afterschool programs offer students a wealth of benefits and opportunities. They keep them safe and supervised each afternoon, after the regular school day ends and before parents return home from work. Afterschool programs help students with their homework and offer them educational activities that are fun, enriching, and prepare them do well in school and in life. These programs offer children and youth the chance to engage with mentors, participate in sports and physical fitness activities, and work in teams as they learn to program computers, plant gardens, volunteer to help those in need, learn music and dance, and much more.
Every child deserves these opportunities – but many are not getting them. We can do better, and the solution is relatively simple: It’s about finding the resources to help all our kids do better.
The new study also found that, nationally, more than four in five parents favor public funding for afterschool opportunities in communities that have few opportunities for children and youth – and 88 percent of Georgia’s parents agree. Support crosses political and geographic lines. In fact, 91 percent of parents who identify as Democrats, 86 percent who identify as Independents and 80 percent who identify as Republicans favor public funding for afterschool programs.
Georgia’s Lights On Afterschool Week was a huge success, but the work does not stop there. This is still the time to join, and make your voice heard and speak out for afterschool so that, very soon, there will be many more than 10 million U.S. students in afterschool programs and the unmet demand will disappear entirely.