10/23/05 — After school programs promoted

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After school programs promoted

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on October 23, 2005 2:04 AM

In today's society, afterschool programs for all children are not a luxury, but a necessity. This was the main point of a Lights On Afterschool! luncheon held Wednesday at the Wayne Center.

Community leaders, school officials and others gathered to promote Wayne County's after school programs.

Lights On Afterschool! is a project of the JCPenney Afterschool Fund and the Afterschool Alliance, a nonprofit public awareness and advocacy organization.

During the luncheon, Howard Scott, county extension director, spoke about the importance of afterschool programs here. He said that youths today need safe, stimulating places to go after school because the parents of more than 28 million school-aged children work outside the home, according to the Department of Labor.

"At least seven million latchkey children go to an empty house on any given afternoon," said Scott. "These latchkey children go home, use a house key to open the door, lock the door behind them and then wait for their parents to come home."

Statistics from the National Center for Juvenile Justice show that children are more likely to be involved in crime, substance abuse and teen-age pregnancy in the hours after school, particularly between 3 and 4 p.m.

Scott said although there are afterschool programs through Wayne County 4-H, the Family Y and the Boys and Girls Clubs, there are still not enough programs here. "Afterschool programs play a significant part in Wayne County," he said. "More than 4,000 young people are in afterschool programs here."

Another reason for increasing afterschool programs is that nearly two-thirds of American voters have reported difficulty in finding quality, affordable programs for their children, according to an Afterschool Alliance Poll. The amount of afterschool programs that are available today meets only half the demand among elementary and middle school parents.

Scott said there are multiple benefits to afterschool programs. These programs keep children safe, help working families and improve academic achievement.

He said it was reported by the University of California Irvine that students improved their standardized test scores in both reading and math by percentages almost twice that of other students not in afterschool programs and they also had better attendance.

Afterschool participants also have better grades and lower truancy rates. Teens who don't attend an afterschool program are nearly three times more likely to use marijuana and other drugs, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and engage in sexual activity.

Scott said the afterschool programs are making a difference in the lives of Wayne County's children. "When you have an adult who pays attention to children and mentors them, good things happen.

"We can't save 100 percent of the children in Wayne County, but we are going to do the best we can to save as many as we can. The afterschool program may be the safety net that saves a young person."

Wayne County 4-H began its afterschool programs in 1986. There are presently programs in two local middle schools and seven elementary schools.

"Afterschool programs play a vital role in the development of our youths in Wayne County," said Scott. "Quality afterschool programs held youths develop the skills to become productive citizens as adults."

John Richards, chief executive officer of the Family Y, said with both parents working today to provide for the family, afterschool programs are necessary.

"Even the best of children are going to have problems distinguishing what is right and what is wrong by themselves," he said.

He said a lot of afterschool programs have had to shut down in the past few years because of funding and that's where Lights On Afterschool! got it name.

He encouraged those attending and others in the community to develop more afterschool programs, especially in the schools, and increase the size of existing ones.

The Family Y started its afterschool program in 1982. There are presently 75 children enrolled.

Afterschool programs began at the Boys and Girls Club in 1947. Children receive help with homework, mentoring, tutoring, sports, recreation, career guidance, arts, healthy living skills and more. The program at the club is a collaboration with the schools, WATCH, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, local colleges and the community.

Entertainment for the luncheon was provided by members of They Royal Dancers from the Boys and Girls Club of Wayne County.