Over the past decade, the Harvard
Family Research Project (HFRP) has been studying after school programs, and what effect such programs might have on students. After intensive study, the HRFP found that after school programs really do make a positive difference in a child’s life. The big surprise, however, was the finding that after school programs don’t just effect a child’s academic outcomes, but in a number of other critical areas, as well. This finding is of no small importance for children growing up in the United States. There is a significant international education achievement gap that has U.S. students ranking 25th
out of 49 countries in student test scores over the past decade and a half. This gap has failed to be successfully addressed by either George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), or by President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program
. Could after school programs such as The Zone succeed where these other programs have failed? According to the Harvard study on the subject, after school programs help students cultivate improved attitudes toward school and motivate them to continue their studies after high school. Furthermore, attendance at school and school punctuality increases for children in these programs. With attendance at after school programs there is a concurrent decrease in the need for disciplinary actions such as suspensions as well as lowered dropout rates. Scores on achievement tests rise, as do the rates of homework completion. Moreover, children who attend after school programs are found to have better engagement in their learning. The Harvard study also found that social/emotional outcomes improve for children who attend such after school programs. Their behavior, inside and outside the classroom improves. The students do better in their interpersonal relationships with peers, parents, and teachers. The general mental health of these students improves, with lowered rates for anxiety and depression. Kids in after school programs have increased self-esteem and also feel better about their schools. In addition to these benefits, students in programs like The Zone are more likely to avoid drug and alcohol abuse and less likely to engage in violent, delinquent, sexual, or criminal behavior. But it doesn’t end here. It just gets better. The Harvard study found that students in after school programs make better food choices, get more exercise, know more about best health and nutrition practices, have lower body mass indexes (BMI), better blood pressure, and a more realistic, improved body image. So what does it take to make all this good stuff happen? Harvard gleaned three major messages from this study:
- Children must have access to after school programs and have sustained participation in such programs
- Such programs must have top-notch programming, careful supervision, and well-structured time, along with trained and adequately prepared staff, and scheduled programming
- Engagement between these programs with students’ families, community organizations, and area schools is crucial
Where government education initiatives fail, grass roots after school programs succeed. The car donation charity Kars4Kids, for instance, helps fund successful after school programs in a number of communities, helping to combat the U.S. achievement gap on many levels: academic outcomes, social/emotional, prevention, and health and wellness. All told, after school programs appear to offer a brighter tomorrow for our youth.