Nonprofits take learning beyond the last bell

The new presidential administration and questions about funding for school, after school and summer learning programs have amplified the national conversation about how we instruct our children.

While many focus on traditional school day programs, some experts say out-of-school programs are equally, if not more, important to the development of today’s youth. Children spend about 20 percent of their waking hours in school. But, they don’t stop learning at the end of the school day or year.

“What they are learning depends on what they are doing, whether that means spending too much time on screen or with bad individuals,” says Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance in Washington, D.C.

Between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. is when more than 11 million children are on their own, often unsupervised, waiting for parents or guardians to return from work. Between those hours, youth are more vulnerable to experimenting with drugs and alcohol and participating in gang violence. These children also tend to lag in social skills and, Grant says, are 37 percent more likely to become teen parents.

What’s more, during summer break, youth often lose two months of skills they learned during the school year. According to a Measure of American report from the Social Science Research Council, there’s a disconnect with 4.9 million youth, ages 16 to 24, meaning they are not in school and not working and are isolated from routes that help them transition into an independent and rewarding adulthood.

“That’s a huge loss in workforce development skills,” says Grant.

However, they can grow as individuals in programs that help them succeed in school, in work and in life, she says. “If we really want our kids to be prepared for the workforce, we can’t underestimate them gaining soft skills in a safe space. Kids in after school programs do better academically, better behaviorally, attend school more.”

We take a look at three out-of-school, nonprofit youth programs — Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation’s AileyCamp, 826 National and Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit — that have been successfully enhancing youth development for more than a decade.

Read more at FordBetterWorld.org.

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