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Log in to Witsby: ASCD’s Next-Generation Professional Learning and Credentialing Platform
April 1, 2001
Vol. 58
No. 7

Perspectives / When the Day is Over...

      One parent worries that his kindergartner and 1st grader are getting too "whacked" because they are away from home from early morning until early evening. He fears that too often after-school programs are babysitting services that fill kids' time meaninglessly.
      Another parent mentions concerns for safety. Her children meet a neighborhood teenager at the bus stop and stay with her until their father gets home. The rules are, "No one may come into the house—no child, no adult. No one may answer the door unless the babysitter recognizes the caller and feels in control of the situation."
      Still another mother whose children eat breakfast at day care and go back for an after-school snack wants her kids to spend the time wisely. She asks that her boys do their homework at the day-care center so that she can review the assignments at home. Three nights a week, the family heads out for after-school sports.
      My colleagues here at ASCD shared the various ways that they manage before- and after-school care for their kids. Many of their plans require careful coordination of time and transportation. Parents' rules differ, but their concerns do not: They worry about whether their children are safe and are using their time well. Several mention opportunities that their children are able to take advantage of: an art program at school, an Odyssey of the Mind program staffed by a volunteer parent, a club that their kids enjoy. But these parents are not as concerned about their children getting additional academic preparation after school as they are about their children being with caring adults.
      With long commutes and extended working days for adults, some kind of after-school program, day care, or babysitting has become a necessity for many families. The average family today has 22 fewer hours each week to spend at home than families had 30 years ago (Belsie, 2000). The so-called school day for most children rarely ends at 3 pm, with kids traipsing home for milk and cookies. In addition, neighborhoods seem less safe, traffic more congested, and fears about kids getting into trouble more intense. And although many families are able to devise structured plans for after-school care, some families cannot afford expensive alternatives. The U.S. Census indicates that 6.9 million children—9 percent of children ages 5–11 and 41 percent ages 12–14—regularly care for themselves without adult supervision (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000).
      These realities are changing the public's perceptions:
      Decisions about children's activities outside of school have long been a family matter. . . . Nevertheless, a consensus is now emerging that the wider society should share with parents the responsibility for providing programs and activities, safe places, and transportation options to make "out-of-school time" productive for children and teens. (Larner, 1999, p. 5)
      Federal funds from the 21st Century Learning Center program have recently initiated a proliferation of after-school programs, and grants proposed by the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives may create and sustain more. Research is beginning to examine the qualities of good programs and the results that they achieve. As Beth M. Miller (p. 6) tells us, well-designed programs can lessen achievement gaps and deter such risky student behavior as drug abuse and gang membership.
      This issue of Educational Leadership looks at the benefits and challenges of providing after-school activities—how extracurricular programs are handling financing and staffing and how they are choosing their focus—child care, recreation, remediation, enrichment, or character development. It also explores promising school/community partnerships (p. 14). A special section looks at the benefits of the traditional after-school activity—homework (pp. 34–45).
      Whether schools should extend their primary duty—to educate students—to include offering after-school care is still a matter of debate, but the connection between students' well-being and their capacity for learning suggests that the role of schools in providing after-school arrangements that are beneficial to students will grow.

      Marge Scherer has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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