It’s 3 p.m., do you know where your children are?

We often refer to youth as our future, yet when budget cuts roll around, the money used to invest in students gets put on the chopping block. Even with a state line item for after- school programming, 44 percent of students in Connecticut who are not enrolled in a program would be likely to participate if one was available.

With budget cuts looming, we need to re-evaluate our commitment to the opportunities that we provide our youth between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m.  That is why we need the investment of community stakeholders, including private foundations and institutions of higher education.

After-school programs do more than just provide a needed space after the bell rings; they affect the classroom.  In a nationwide study, 65 percent of students improved their class participation and homework completion, 57 percent of students improved their classroom behavior, and nearly half improved their math and language arts grades. For every Connecticut student enrolled, two more would participate if a program were available. Imagine the changes that would come from expanding opportunities to all of these children.

Still, positive outcomes stemming from after school programs aren’t limited to students. Why do 86 percent of Connecticut parents support public funding for these programs? With 74 percent of Connecticut parents saying after school programs help them keep their jobs, 68 percent saying their children have opportunities to learn STEM skills, and parents reporting that healthy foods and snacks are provided, it’s easy to see the value that is brought to parents.

Communities also benefit when juvenile crime goes down, on-the-job productivity increases, and the return on investment is $2.50 saved for every $1 spent (Afterschool Supports Students’ Success, May 2016). If state after-school funds are going to consistently be offered up as a casualty during budget cuts, we have to safeguard programs through other means of funding.

If we rely solely on government funds in order to expand programming to meet the needs of families wanting to participate, we will be disappointed. This reality makes it even more crucial for foundations, universities, and local agencies to partner and provide resources. At Dwight Hall, we are fortunate to have a program funded by the Marie and John Zimmermann Fund in two New Haven public schools.

Through the Jones-Zimmermann Academic Mentoring Program (J-Z AMPTM), starting in sixth grade, two students are paired with a Yale mentor who stays with them until their eighth grade graduation. The investment from the fund is thus amplified through commitments from Dwight Hall, Yale, and New Haven Public Schools. “J-Z AMPTM’s impact relies on the strength of its partners,” according to Fund President Kristin Z. Miskavage. “Non-profit foundations alone are hard-pressed to operate effective programs without the buy-in, coordination, and dedicated personnel that our university and public school districts provide.”

We have just finished up our fourth cohort of J-Z AMPTM mentors and students. Preliminary data demonstrate that J-Z AMPTM participants finish eighth grade with higher test scores than their non-participating peers. Moreover, our previous cohorts have shown that J-Z AMPTM participants are significantly more likely to achieve a high school degree.

If we are serious about committing to and investing in our youth, we need to work together to ensure that regardless of state budget cuts, families who want their children to participate have the opportunity to enroll.  From donating to a fund to calling up your local higher education institute’s volunteering and engagement office, we all have a role to play in growing after school programs so that more, not less, parents know where their children are at 3 p.m.

Mark Fopeano is the Program Manager at Dwight Hall at Yale.

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