WASHINGTON – The U.S. Education Department and the National League of Cities have agreed to work together to foster development of after-school programs in 15 cities.
As part of a memorandum of understanding, the department and the NLC announced Monday that they will strive to boost partnerships among federal and local governments, schools, families, faith-based organizations, businesses, nonprofits and universities to build after-school programs.
As part of the MOU, the NLC will hold “community conversations” in the cities focusing on after-school programs as well as on early childhood education and postsecondary educational attainment.
The MOU does not include any funding.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, announcing the initiative at NLC’s annual Congressional City Conference in Washington, said it entails “thinking very differently not just about raising expectations and standards during the school day but thinking about after-school time.”
“What are we doing to make our schools community centers from 3 o’clock to 6 o’clock, 7 o’clock, 8 o’clock at night?” Duncan said. “What are we doing on Saturdays? What are we doing throughout the summer? I keep saying for all the challenges we face, our nation has 100,000 public schools – [in] rich neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods, black, white, Latino.
“They don’t belong to me or to the principal or to the union. They belong to the community. ... The more we can start to co-locate services [in schools], bring in nonprofits, bring in social service agencies, bring in faith-based institutions, there’s a chance not just to educate our children but to educate their entire families, and if we do that, great things are going to happen for our young people.”
The effort will aim to develop social-emotional skills among students and help close the achievement gap between young men of color and others.
As part of the MOU, the NLC is to conduct mayoral summits in five of the 15 cities.
NLC President Chris Coleman, the mayor of St. Paul, Minn., said the effort would help cities expand critically important after-school programs.
“There’s a huge space where our children are spending too much of their time without anything to do,” Coleman said. “A child typically spends 20 percent of their time in school and 80 percent of their time out of school.”
In St. Paul, “Sprockets” – a collaboration of community organizations, the city and its public schools – provides an extensive network of after-school and summer programs.
The collaboration grew out of conversations in 2006 among parents, educators and community organizations, Coleman said.
He said it ensures every child in the city has a chance to participate in out-of-school programs during the school year and in the summer.
“So I think in a very similar way in communities across the country, we will see through these community conversations based on the memorandum of understanding a similar growth of after-school programs that will really support our children as they look to be successfully navigating in school,” Coleman said.
The Washington-based Afterschool Alliance said in 2009 that more than 15 million school-age children were unsupervised after school and that only 8.4 million K-12 students participated in after-school programs.
Jen Rinehart, the Afterschool Alliance’s vice president of research and policy, noted that the organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids has found the hours between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. are peak hours for juvenile crime and experimentation with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and sex.
Leaving kids unsupervised in the after-school hours invites trouble, said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.
“Everyone knows that the hours of 3 to 7 or 3 to 8 p.m. are some of the most dangerous times of day for young people all across the United States of America, whether they are actively engaged in negative activity or the victim of negative activity,” Nutter said.
Thus, he said, community conversations about out-of-school time “will be critically important.”
The Afterschool Alliance says research shows after-school programs not only help children avoid risky behavior but also improve their academic achievement and attendance.
“From the Afterschool Alliance’s perspective, it was great to see this announcement and to see after-school included as one of the strategies that the cities and the U.S. Department of Education are talking about to really help close the achievement gap and improve student outcomes,” Rinehart told Youth Today.
She said safety is often a big concern among city leaders.
“So lots of times the entry point for these conversations [about after-school programs] with city leaders is the community safety angle, and then once you start talking with them about all the other benefits that are associated with after-school in addition to the safety component, then they’re really on board.”
Along with St. Paul and Philadelphia, the cities participating in the MOU are Avondale, Ariz.; Berkeley, Calif.; Dayton, Ohio; Gary, Ind.; Hattiesburg, Miss.; Kansas City, Mo.; Louisville, Ky.; Madison, Wis.; Memphis, Tenn.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Pittsburgh; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Savannah, Ga.