By Cassie Galasetti |
Melissa Halk, program manager of the All Stars Afterschool Program at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School in Asbury Park, is always excited when she greets the smiling faces of the new 4th grade students who enter the cafeteria to choose their classes at the start of a session, a privilege allowed to fourth through eighth graders that creates a sense of ownership and strengthens participation. Classes range from creative writing, yoga, martial arts, gardening, mini engineers and more.
Students of all ages need more than a strong and challenging curriculum, dedicated teachers and quality time in the classroom to graduate or make it to the next grade. After-school programs are a necessity, not only because they provide a safe place for kids but these types of programs combine education with hands-on activities and add to the overall social and professional development of a child.
After-school programs depend on a variety of financial resources to meet the needs of the children. Investment is needed from the federal, state and local governments, foundations, businesses and even parents. Without support, after-school programs are at risk, and ultimately puts the community at risk.
According to The Afterschool Alliance, an organization established in 2000 as an advocate for providing all youth with affordable, quality after-school programs, says that 10.2 million students participate in after-school programs across the country and an additional 19.4 million students would participate if programs were available to them. Their website states that in New Jersey alone, 422,067 students between kindergarten and 12th grade are waiting on programs to become available.
Unfortunately, the need exceeds the funds available to sustain these programs. Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic School in Asbury Park is currently looking for donations to keep their All Stars Afterschool Program going for this upcoming school year. Friendship Train Foundation, the operator of the program, has been helping raise funds through their website. The president of the foundation, Michel Marks said, “This program is one of the finest in the country. For eight years, it’s been a boon for Asbury Park and for hundreds of young children and their parents. Until now, it’s been funded primarily by outsiders and it really needs the local community to step in now to keep it running.”
Since 2011, over 150 students each year – 75 percent of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel’s student body – have utilized the program during those critical after-school hours. Students at Mt. Carmel receive a nutritious snack, homework help and enrichment opportunities they would other wise not have access to, like musical instrument lessons provided by Lakehouse Music Academy in partnership with Asbury Park Music Foundation.
Research shows that students who regularly participate in after-school programs become excited about learning, which improves their daily school attendance, math and reading skills and helps them develop strong social skills which they will need throughout life.
According to The Afterschool Alliance, parents miss an average of eight days a work year due to lack of after-school care which can be stressful and result in loss of pay. Parents need the peace of mind while at work that their children are properly cared for while learning and experiencing new opportunities.
Like Mt. Carmel, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County provides an after-school program offering homework help, mentorship, character development and life skills classes, and sports and recreation. “We provide a low-cost, high-impact mixture of academic support, social and emotional learning opportunities, and fun and engaging recreational activities, administered by caring and compassionate youth development professionals,” said Douglas Eagles, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County. The Red Bank unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Monmouth County has close to 200 registered members, with an average daily attendance of 50.
Numerous studies conducted by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America have shown that children who participate in club activities on a regular basis are more likely to graduate high school on time, with a plan for either college or a career.
With the upcoming school year right around the corner, going back to school can be challenging for children going through difficult personal and family experiences. That’s why the Community YMCA’s Counseling & Social Services team provides in-school support for the emotional and social development of teens and adolescents.
During afterschool hours, they provide similar opportunities to the Boys & Girls Club, plus swim safety, sports teen leadership, therapeutic and social support, arts enrichment and a “Healthy U” program in partnership with the Horizons Foundation, which helps combat childhood obesity by encouraging children to enjoy physical activity and learn about proper nutrition.
In the end, school officials need to educate and encourage the notion that after-school programs are a necessity and not a luxury. Investing in after-school programming is essential for a prosperous and productive community as a whole.
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