This blog is the fourth in a series of junior Forum for Youth Investment staff and interns sharing their perspectives and engaging with the Forum’s Changing the Odds concepts.
On October 26th, 2017, the Afterschool Alliance will launch the 18th annual Lights on Afterschool, a nationwide celebration to call attention to the importance of afterschool programs for children, families and communities.
Afterschool programs provide regularly scheduled and structured activities where learning opportunities take place after the typical school day, such as debate team, robotics, community service and sports. Among researchers, there is widespread agreement that high quality, structured afterschool programs support and promote youth’s academic, social and emotional development. These programs help young people develop problem-solving skills, self-efficacy, technical capabilities and communication skills.
Taking time to participate in afterschool activities brings a host of new opportunities to master these skills. I was an avid participant in many afterschool activities, mainly of the athletic variety. Tennis, gymnastics, soccer, basketball, football, weightlifting, skiing—the appropriate question was not, “What sport do you play?” but rather, “What sport are you playing now?”
I credit my afterschool activities with teaching me the value of teamwork, work ethic and communication. I remember one particular late-night gymnastics practice when our coach was leaning heavily on us to complete our workout assignments. Of the five gymnasts slated to compete later that week, all five of us had to stick our beam routines (i.e. don’t fall off the beam) before we could move on to our next event.
For the next hour or so, the team groaned in frustration as we came close to staying on that four-inch piece of wood, but then someone would fall and we would have to start over again. We continued to fatigue physically and mentally and kept making small, silly mistakes. Our captain recognized that we needed to regroup, so she called for a break and held a mini “team meeting” with the competitors.
Our captain brought us together and reminded us of how far we’d come during the season and how important our training was. “I don’t know about you,” she said, “but I’m climbing that ladder until we reach the top.” She was pointing to the “ladder” in the gym, where each rung represented a competition from the beginning of the season to the state tournament.
Immediately after that pep talk, the team returned to the workout reenergized and refocused. We forgot our fatigue and went on to stick every routine in a row, finally completing the assignment together. Though a seemingly small success at the time (and not even completed during competition), that experience taught me resolve, a razor-sharp focus and the importance of working as a team. Over time, I became cognizant that I applied those same skills to my academic life, my professional life and beyond.
There are many stories of young people learning self-confidence from coding, grit from basketball, persistence from creative writing and poise from debate. Sadly, despite the critical role of afterschool programs in youth development, 11.3 million children in America are left alone and unsupervised after the last school bell rings.
Research shows that regular participation in afterschool programs helps narrow the achievement gap between high- and low-income students in math and can improve academic and behavioral outcomes, yet low-income youth often lack equitable access to affordable, high-quality afterschool programs in the first place.
The Afterschool Alliance continues to champion high quality afterschool programs while emphasizing the need for a concerted effort by the public and private sectors to meet the demand for affordable and accessible afterschool programs.
Participating in Lights On Afterschool is one way to join the movement and show your support for afterschool programming. Visit the Lights On Afterschool website to register an event, find events near you, access materials and more!
 Gambone, M. A., Klem, A. M., & Connell, J. P. (2002). Finding out what matters for youth: Testing key links in a community action framework for youth development. Youth Development Strategies, Incorporated.
 Afterschool Alliance. (2014). America After 3PM: Afterschool Programs in Demand. Washington, D.C.
 Pierce, K. M., Auger, A. & Vandell, D. L. (2013). Narrowing the Achievement Gap: Consistency and intensity of structured activities during elementary school. Unpublished paper presented at the Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting, Seattle Wa. http:// www.expandinglearning.org/docs/The%20Achievement%20Gap%20 is%20Real.pdf.