Engaging Youth When They Are Out of School

Participants in the Columbus Parks and Recreation afterschool program. Photo courtesy of Columbus Parks and Recreation Department.

If children are engaged and connected in quality afterschool and summer care, everybody wins.

by Sara Baxter

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

They may be one of the nearly 328,000 Georgia school-aged children who are in a supervised afterschool program. Or they could be one of the more than 633,400 who would like to be, but are not.

Afterschool care, or “out-of-school” time (which includes school vacations and summer), is a big issue for Georgia’s working parents.

According to America after 3pm, a report released in early December by the Afterschool Alliance, 18% of Georgia’s school aged children participate in afterschool programs. For every child who is in a program, two more are waiting to get in. That leaves out approximately 42% of children who need it. According to that same report, parents say lack of available programs, the high cost and transportation issues are barriers to finding adequate care. In fact, more than 238,000 children are alone and unsupervised between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. during week days.

And it’s more than just children and families who suffer.

“Businesses lose up to $300 billion a year nationally due to decreases in worker productivity related to concerns about afterschool care,” says Bela Shah Spooner, Program Director, Education and Expanded Learning at the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education and Families. “Workers are distracted worrying about their children, or may have to leave work early to pick them up. Data shows productivity drops drastically at 3 p.m.”

Image courtesy of Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta.

The benefits of afterschool and summer learning to children are unnumerable: they are in a safe, nurturing environment; they are engaged and connected; they get help with their schoolwork, and often it provides meals and snacks where children may not otherwise get one. Parents have the peace of mind that their children are well-cared for, and therefore can focus on their jobs. It also positively impacts the quality of life in a community.

According to several reports from the National League of Cities, quality afterschool care can improve:

  • Public Safety: research shows that 19 percent of juvenile violent crimes occur between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
  • Academic Outcomes: data shows that the achievement gap can be closed with consistent participation in programs over time.
  • Workforce Development: afterschool programs can strengthen the local workforce by promoting skill development and engaging students in hands-on, technical projects, as well as enable more people to work full-time.

“Having quality afterschool care in place also makes a community an attractive place to live, as well as attractive to businesses, because it is critical to being able to hire and retain employees,” says East Point Mayor Deana Holiday Ingraham, who is also the Special Projects Manager for the Georgia Statewide Afterschool Network (GSAN) and chairs GMA’s Children and Youth Advisory Council. “And employees need to have quality care to be as productive as possible.”

Spooner says the concept of afterschool care has evolved from simply a place where kids go between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to higher quality programs that offer a range of activities that are organized, flexible, interactive, incorporate physical activity and provide a nurturing, supportive environment focused on fun and skill building, all of which have far reaching benefits.

“Children spend 80% of their waking hours outside of classroom learning,” says Katie Landes, director of GSAN, noting that a lot of that is during the summer. “And those are hours of opportunity to extend learning.”

Taking Care of Children in Columbus

Each day, up to 1,200 school age children in Columbus are cared for through the city’s Parks and Recreation Department’s before school and afterschool programs. The department partners with Muscogee County Schools, and runs their programs in 22 of the system’s schools during the school year. The partnership allows them to utilize cafeterias, classrooms, gyms and playgrounds.

Photo courtesy of Columbus Parks and Recreation Department.

“The children stay on site, so there’s no need for transportation,” says Holli Browder, Director of the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department. “It also makes it easier on parents to drop them off or pick them up close to home.”

The children – the majority of whom are ages 4 to 12 – are grouped by age, and enjoy activities such as games, sports, dance, STEM activities and even Spanish, led by trained staff. They also receive homework help.

“We want to offer a variety of activities to keep them engaged,” says Browder, noting that variety and level of care is also present during school breaks and their summer programs.

Parents pay for care on a sliding scale based on income, making it more readily accessible to more families. The program is also subsidized through the city’s budget.

“It’s really important to provide quality programs that parents can afford,” Browder says. “And by keeping kids safe and engaged, it’s a positive for the community as well.”

When Communities Get Involved

“There is no dedicated state funding for afterschool programs in Georgia,” says Landes. “The largest funding streams are from the 21st Century Community Learning Center program administered by the Georgia Department of Education, and the Afterschool Care Program housed at the Georgia Division of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS).” Both of these are federal programs that serve almost 100,000 lower income youth across the state.

So, it often falls upon individual communities to help find a solution, and research shows those efforts pay off in a big way. A GSAN report entitled Investing in Georgia’s Youth: Why Afterschool Makes “Cents,” found that every $1 invested in these programs leads to a return on investment to Georgia’s taxpayers of $2.64.

“Cities have a huge role to play,” says Spooner. “Mayors can act as conveners and catalysts by bringing all the players to the table to understand the need, assess what is already offered, and then raise awareness about the gaps. It’s an opportunity to look at how the need is being met across the community and invite people to the conversation to generate solutions.” She says this includes local YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, local recreation centers, small independent programs and the faith-based and business communities.

Landes agrees that collaboration is the key. “When you bring people together, you have to ask ‘what could we be doing and how do we do that together?’” she advises. “It might be as easy maximizing unused spaces and utilizing existing staff.”

Mayor Ingraham has taken this approach in East Point. In 2015, the city established the Joint Learning Committee, comprised of school leaders, city officials and department heads along with leadership from business, faith-based and nonprofit sectors with the goal of extending learning in out-of-school time, increasing parent and youth engagement and workforce development opportunities.

“It is critical for elected officials to understand the importance of extended learning for children and their communities.”

“It is critical for elected officials to understand the importance of extended learning for children and their communities,” says Ingraham. “They need to respect what already exists, and allow school leaders to share what the school needs. That way you build mutual respect and have aligned goals and can collaborate and leverage resources to meet the needs of the community.”

In an example of collaboration, GSAN is organizing the Greater Atlanta Summer Learning Council, which will bring together business leaders, local government officials, state agencies and parent associations within in the 13-county metro area to look at how to improve quality and access to summer learning in all communities.

“We’re bringing together a variety of perspectives to talk about afterschool and summer learning programs,” says Landes. “It’s a way to get the conversation started.”

In terms of resources, both NLC’s Institute for Youth Education and Families and the GSAN offer help to cities through professional development, technical assistance and networking opportunities. Spooner and Landes encourage cities and communities to take advantage of those resources. At the end of the day, establishing, maintaining or supporting quality afterschool programs in communities is a win for everyone involved.

“It’s a worthwhile venture that provides more than people realize,” says Columbus’s Browder. “If you offer the service to the entire community, think about how much better that community will be. Parents know their children are safe, and the kids know they have someone who cares about them.”

Sara Baxter is a freelance writer based in Decatur, GA. She specializes in telling stories for nonprofit organizations.

Kelli Bennett
GMA Communications Director

Krystin Dean
GaFCP Communications Specialist

Follow us on Twitter: @gafcpnews

Connect with us on Facebook.


Georgia Municipal Association anticipates and influences the forces shaping Georgia’s cities and provides leadership, tools, and services that assist municipal governments in becoming more innovative, effective and responsive.